UES gallery crawl: Hirst, Wall, Bontecou, Picabia, Dodd

Before checking out galleries on the Upper East Side the other day, I met Brece Honeycutt at the burger joint in Le Parker Meridien, where we were surprised to see a big Damien Hirst spin painting hanging over the desk in the lobby.  According to the desk clerk, most of the hotel visitors are familiar with the painting not because they have any interest in the artist per se, but because they’ve read about the painting’s million+ price tag in their guidebooks….

At Marian Goodman, Jeff Wall’s mammoth photographs reference history painting in their size and early Modernist painting in their content, and indeed the press materials suggest Wall wants to “paint modern life.” I was fascinated by the narrative images, but the landscapes were dull… just really, really big and highly detailed.  “You have been there,” the group photography show in the
back room curated by Marie Muracciole, made me realize how much of the territory that used to be the exclusive domain of art photographers has been usurped by anyone with a camera phone and a Tumblr blog. In the 3rd floor gallery, there was a video projection but no chairs,
so I didn’t see the whole thing. I know it’s an old complaint, but why don’t galleries put chairs
or benches in galleries so you can sit and take a good hard look at the work–especially video? 

 Jeff Wall, Boxing, 2011. On the check list, the medium is simply “color photograph.” i don’t have the dimensions, but it had to be at least 7 x 10 feet.

Further uptown at Freedman Art, Lee Bontecou presents Joan Mir�-ish, spindly spacecraft, sci-fi-like creature-objects hanging from the ceiling. Her craft and inventiveness are remarkable, and I particularly liked the arrangements of small ceramics in the floor sandboxes, although I would have installed them differently, perhaps at table height like a diorama in a history museum. One had a tiny sailboat amid all the scary shells-with-human-teeth sculptures, recalling the trials and tribulations faced by the  long-lost sailors in mythic odysseys. Bontecou’s delicate graphite drawings lack the grit and angst evident in her three-dimensional work.

 Lee Bontecou insallation at Freedman Art.

Ok, I’m just going to come out and say it: Francis Picabia’s late paintings at Michael Werner were a big disappointment. Everyone (I’m talking to you, Joshua Abelow) has been raving
about this show, but I thought it was awful. Although individual paintings are compelling, overall these clunky, kitschy
paintings from the later part of Picabia’s career don’t deserve the second look they’ve been
getting. The surfaces actually look better in JPEGs.

 Francis Picabia, Etoile, 1947, oil on board, 25 1/2 x 20 3/4 inches

The standout show of the afternoon was Lois Dodd at Alexandre. In her eighties, Dodd
continues to explore her familiar surroundings up in Maine, and in the best paintings she focuses intensely on plants and flowers, painting beautifully from observation without getting mired in detail. The color and brushwork are wonderful–quirky and assured, but hard to apprehend in JPEGs, so go to the gallery and have a look–the paintings are exquisite. I’ll write more about Lois Dodd for the February ArtSeen section  of The Brooklyn Rail, which I’m pleased to report, will be dedicated exclusively to painting(!).

Lois Dodd, Agapanthus, 2010, oil on masonite, 10 x 11 inches
Lois Dodd, Apple Tree Branches, 2011, oil on masonite, 15 3/4 x 13 inches

Lois Dodd, Queen Anne’s Lace, 2011, oil on masonite, 20 x 17 inches
  Brece in the Lois Dodd exhibition. Thanks, Brece, for organizing the afternoon.


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One Comment

  1. Picabia had thrift store style painting down way before anybody else.

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