by Franklin Hill Perrell
Our recent visits to Madison Avenue galleries commenced at Skarstedt on E. 79th for the exhibition of Georg Baselitz’s series of Orange Eaters and Glass Drinkers from 1981-83. These dozen quite masterful neo-expressionist paintings are from the series that made the German contemporary artist famous in America, portraits in his typical palette of vivid colors and scumbled rich paint handling. Everything appears upside down: perhaps a comment on the state of world affairs but certainly a strategy for keeping a painting midway between abstraction and reality. It’s lively, engaging, and historic, and the work looks fresh, spontaneous, and relevant. Skarstedt, 20 E. 79 St., Georg Baselitz: Drinkers and Orange Eaters. Closes June 27.
Next door, we visited the ever wonderful Acquavella. Their exhibition, entitled Off Canvas, featured works in media other than paint-on-canvas, thus watercolor, pastel, pencil, pen and ink, and so on. Characteristic of the museum-like aura of this gallery, included are a dazzling array of major 20th century artists, from Picasso to Thiebaud: Matisse, Arshile Gorky, Sam Francis, Lucien Freud, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and more. It begins with Toulouse-Lautrec’s exquisitely rendered 1899 drawing of a circus equestrian. This piece is notable for its detailed depictions of spectators who could have stepped out of Moulin Rouge.
The point of this show is not only to portray significant stylistic statements but to provide a glimpse of studio practice. Works on paper reveal the most direct expression of the artists’ immediate thinking and intent, whereas paintings in oil typically require a number of intervening technical stages.
Acquavella, 18 E. 79 St., Off Canvas. Closes June 12.
On 78th Street, we visited the elegant premises of Mnuchin Gallery to see the work of the Hungarian/French artist Simon Hantai who follows in the formalist tradition of Jackson Pollock whereby the process of the arts’ making determines the final look of the painting. These 60’s era works were executed on canvas which was folded or crumpled by the artist (he called them Pliages) before being painted. Once covered with paint, they were flattened out with a heavy roller, unfurled, and then mounted, producing an array of abstract designs (sometimes like leaves) in an all over pattern. This effect was achieved by areas hidden in the folds, which remained either unpainted or were painted subsequently in an alternate color. The result, when done in bold solid colors, relates to Matisse’s late cut-outs.
Mnuchin Gallery, 45 E. 78 St., Simon Hantai, Pliage: The First Decade. Closes June 26.
Further south, 980 Madison yields an exhibition of large scale work by Cy Twombly at Gagosian, dating mostly from 2004-2008. The 6th floor space features a spectacular 10 panel piece from the artist’s series of Blooms, showing peonies in full bloom, in a palette of pinks and reddish orange. The creamy white background is painted into some of the flower forms producing a complex layering of partially translucent brushwork. Two strong vertical paintings with white, loopy calligraphic designs- an indecipherable written text, are reminiscent of Twombly’s famed Blackboard series of the 1970’s. In the 5th floor gallery, a group of monument-like bronze sculptures evoke relics from an archaeological dig. Some elements appear cast from archaic farm implements: their off-white patina suggesting the oxidation and encrustation that clings to long buried objects. The artist’s residency in Rome is a considerable inspiration to his work. Twombly’s interest in classical mythology finds expression in his Bacchus series, represented here by several luxuriously brushed paintings. They evoke an exuberance and zest for life: one side, surely, of an artist who is striking for his universality.
Gagosian Gallery, 980 Madison Ave., Cy Twombly. Closes June 20.
Also at 980 Madison, the exhibition of large Miro paintings from the 1960s and 70s at Nahmad Contemporary is exhilarating: Miro painting shows in galleries are a rarity, and this one illuminates an important but under-recognized quality of his work. Miro visited the US on at least two occasions after the second world war, and as a result, expanded his accustomed scale, assuming a preference for monumental horizontally after seeing the works of Pollock, Newman, and Still.
Drips, splatters, footprints, and an enlargement of individual forms from his vocabulary of constellations, birds, and figures make this show a positive surprise and an ideal lead-in to the Calder show at the nearby Dominique Levy gallery. In fact, Miro’s 1927 painting of a circus horse (here displayed in contrast to the larger later works) presents a clear link, underscored by that fact that Calder performed with his circus in a suitcase (it’s now at the Whitney) for Paris artists, including Miro, just around that time.
Nahmad Contemporary, 980 Madison Ave., Joan Miro, Oiseau dans L’Espace. Closes June 13.
The Calder exhibition, Multum in Parvo (Much in Little) at Dominique Levy Gallery, 73d and Madison, contains at least 40 spectacular small-scaled pieces, many of them gems. It is especially dramatic because of its biomorphic styled installation, floor to ceiling white on white, by the architects Calatrava, father and son. Round, mirror-topped tables, on which the stabiles, or above, mobiles, are displayed, create a semblance of reflections on a lake.
The sculptures’ lively palette of red, black, and the occasional yellow or blue is varied in a couple of exceptions with green or orange. Some are unpainted metal, while others use rocks, wood, chunks of colored glass, or even buttons. There are two chickens made of leather. Sculptures are as tiny as an inch tall. Also shown, is Calders adaptation of a cigar box containing a collection of miniatures made as a birthday present for his wife.
This eye opening show has the joyous quality and scope, in microcosm, of Calder’s greatest lifetime exhibition, his 1976 bicentennial show at the Whitney. One sculpture’s silhouette of a seal, balancing a ball as well as a Calder mobile on its nose, typifies the upbeat mood. The creation of small works, either as stand-alones, or as maquettes, to be used for a larger piece later, was Calder’s career long practice and enables a collection like this to have the full power and variety of a museum exhibition.
Dominique Levy, 909 Madison Ave., Alexander Calder: Multum in Parvo. Closes June 13.