Hauser and Wirth, 511 W. 18th St., has a spectacular exhibition of Subodh Gupta, acclaimed as the Damian Hirst of India. Everyone has been very impressed with the first piece encountered: This is Not a Fountain (see above left) which displays a huge mound of well-used pots and pans with continuously re-circulating flow of water from pipe-mounted faucets throughout. Such cook-ware, in middle class Indian families, up until recently was likely passed from generation to generation and the wear and tear, as well as repairs attest to how essential, and valued, these may be, along with fresh water for cleaning and the renewal of life. There are also fool the eye sculptures and paintings that abound with symbolism and history which attest to the artists prodigious and diverse talents, along with the installations for which he is best known. Gupta’s rise to prominence is in keeping with India becoming a first class player in the world economy, edging up to China in rivalry, and meriting a significant market now for both its modernist and contemporary art.
At 550 W. 21st St., Skarstedt presents “Keith Haring: Heaven and Hell”, featuring giant works in fluorescent acrylics (see one example above on right). These include the artist’s boldly stylized images of televisions with the atomic symbol, vintage computers in densely populated compositions. Here, mutations of sexuality and species in an apocalyptic vision express Haring’s anguish in confronting what proved to be his ultimate demise from aids. Paradoxically, the colors couldn’t be more cheerful.
At Gagosian, at 522 W. 21st St. is the type of highest quality museum survey we have come to expect, considering the gallery’s history : John Elderfield, famed as Curator for MOMA, has put together In the Studio: Paintings. The exhibition begins with two Picasso’s reunited for the first time since they actually were painted (borrowed respectively from MOMA and the Guggenheim). Next to them is a Jasper Johns’ In the Studio, 1982, that shows a wax sculpted one arm which Johns painted with characteristic swatches of pure, wax imbued color. Flanking it are a trompe l’oeils, Johns’ drawing of the arm, and two paintings, all done in his characteristic encaustic with vivid effects of drips and staining. A brilliantly red Motherwell oil, that suggests an art table with an elegy painting behind it, completes the first gallery.
In the next two rooms, the walls darken and the viewer steps back in time. Among portrayals of garret-like French studios, just like the sets in the Metropolitan Opera’s productions of La Boheme, is an early 1900’s pre-fauve Matisse that suggest the desperate privations of this artist before he produced the sensuous explosions of color for which he is most revered (which show up in a later work further along). Notable nearby is Thomas Eakins’ painting of William Rush doing his allegorical sculpture of the Schuykill River: which reckons with an early instance of nude posing in American art, especially significant because of the trouble Eakins himself experienced over allowing a nude female to pose before a gender mixed art class.
In the next gallery, an early 18th century painting by Jean-Baptiste Chardin shows the bladders then used to contain oil pigments, and a ceramic vessel for the linseed oil, elements in one of his portrayals of attributes of the arts. In the same gallery, a wall of Giacometti studio scenes takes us into the modern era along with a remarkable Brancusi painting: all these show the tools of the artist and works in progress, which is the very point.
Each era has its distinct mode of studio practice, whether artists use an easel, paint on canvas, grind their pigments, affix their paintings to the walls, use ladders and buckets, display their prior works as reference, or have other sources at hand. Some motifs are all but universal: the trompe l’oeil wood grain in Braque’s easel and his canvas, with nail-heads showing along the edge. In the works of Johns and Lichtenstein we see the backs of canvases, and another frequent subject is the black metal stove which shows up in the studio of Larry Rivers. The latter posted catalog covers representing Matisse, Picasso, and Vuillard as decorative elements in his studio, along with a bouquet from his garden. A subtle image in the otherwise bold paintings of Philip Guston is the inclusion on a table of some loose triangle canvas corner braces: they show appear in the next painting as well, now installed in an obverse view of a canvas. If you see only one show, this is it. (Closes April 18)
“Jean Prouve and John Chamberlain” at Gagosian at 555 W. 25th is another winner. Said to be the hedge-funders favorite designer, Prouve (1901-1984) comes on very strong here with two large scale demountable buildings (one building shown above) (his furniture is collected by the likes of Martha Stewart and Brad Pitt). The Chamberlain sculptures (top photo), emphasizing chrome from auto bumpers and auto enamel colors look really great within and next to these structures. The aesthetic of each relates and contrasts and encourages us to see each in a new light: we absolutely couldn’t understand Roberta Smith finding this combination other than scintillating- which it is. The show is completed with models and documentation about Prouve’s pioneering work on pre-fabricated buildings, showing in one instance a small house that can be put together by one person in three hours. Prouve was the son of Art Nouveau designer Victor Prouve. His career had its ups and downs, but his rediscovery in recent times is victorious, a point confirmed here. (Closes April 4)