New York School: Back in session



At Cheim & Read, Resnick endures

Milton Resnick: The Elephant in the Room

In the afterglow of MoMA’s recent Abstract Expressionism survey (Oct. 3, 2010–April 25, 2011), several city galleries have recently hosted shows that were sparked by the topic. In fact, since last year, the New York School has undeniably regained its status as the most popular local art movement. The current and widely cherished retrospective of Willem de Kooning’s work, again organized by MoMA (Sept. 18, 2011–Jan. 9, 2012), only aids in strengthening this claim. For those seeking to discover the subject on a more intimate scale, Cheim & Read marks a good destination. Through the end of October, the gallery is making a case for one of the movement’s last true followers, Milton Resnick — whose estate the gallery has managed since 2006.

Born in Bratslav, Ukraine in 1917, Resnick — as so many American artists of that generation — immigrated to the United States as a child. In his case, the family arrived in 1922, escaping a civil war that ravaged their homeland. A decade later, he studied commercial art at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn before transferring to the American Artists School to concentrate on painting. He graduated in 1937, but soon had to serve in the US Army (1940-1945). When he returned to New York, he found himself a witness to the rise of Abstract Expressionism. He became a passionate follower and until his death, he remained strictly committed to non-representational painting.

By focusing exclusively on Resnick’s works from the 1960s to the 1980s, the selection at Cheim & Read invites the audience to assess the late chapters of the artist’s oeuvre. Whereas Resnick’s paintings from the 1940s and 1950s, the decades that marked the height of Abstract Expressionism, are characterized by gesture and movement, these compositions appear tranquil. They are monochrome, rendered in grays, gray-blues or gray-greens, for example, and heavily impasto-ed. It is this meditative restriction to light and texture that provides these paintings with a strangely organic quality. Their surfaces seem to reference nature, evoking moss beds, lava fields or rock formations. In this later body of work, Resnick became less interested in projecting himself, his emotions and convictions onto the picture plane. They are less concrete and therefore more universal. It seems that towards the end of his life, he longed to create a space where he could slowly dissolve his identity and could truly become one with painting.

Through Oct. 29, at Cheim & Read (547 W. 25th St.). Call 212-242-7727 or visit cheimread.com.


Karen Heagle: Let Nature Take Its Course and Hope It Passes

Heagle’s third solo exhibition with the gallery features a new series of large-scale acrylic and mixed media paintings on paper. Rendered in a palette that in its vibrancy evokes Indian miniatures (Matisse and Mexican pottery painting for example), Heagle’s imagery is rooted in the tradition of the still life genre. Jan Brueghel the Elder, Francisco de Zurbarán and Jean-Baptise-Siméon Chardin are justifiable references here. Even some of her recurring ingredients, such as fish, game or kitchen utensils — all assembled into complex compositions — evoke the content of Northern European vanitas paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries. Despite this affinity, Heagle’s paint handling differs drastically. Her touch is distinctly loose and her embrace of gestural expressionism links her more to abstractionists than to traditional realists. In that sense, she has much in common with the American modernist Charles Burchfield, whose seductive works were recently featured at the Whitney Museum.

In “Weedburner,” Heagle depicts burning brush in a barrel that itself sits on a barrow. While a leaning pitchfork and the contained fire suggest a human presence, the scene nevertheless feels remote if not abandoned. We are witnessing the aftermath of a human interaction with nature. Framed by working tools and industrial materials, the brush is smoldering in the center of the picture plane. The fact that the surrounding land appears to be made of rather dry grass adds tension (this fire could easily spill over and cause devastation). While some of Heagle’s objects of fascination, such as a taxidermy deer head and a lava lamp, indicate that she finds much inspiration in her domestic environment, others reveal an interest in the exotic. One striking composition shows a tiger wading in water. Illuminated by the sheen of a full moon, we find the regal creature radiant in its orange coat while a feast of colors sparkles on the liquid surface. Heagle’s quest is to draw us in and hold us close. The Brooklyn-based artist does this through combining intriguing subject matter with a refreshingly indulgent palette.

Through Oct. 29, at I-20 (557 W. 23rd St.). Call 212-645-1100 or visit i–20.com.

Johannes Kahrs

At first glimpse, several of the paintings by the Berlin-based artist Johannes Kahrs evoke the slightly out-of-focus pornographic photographs by Thomas Ruff. They are explicit and yet veiled in a haze that allows for the subject matter to become obscured and hence, secondary. Like Ruff, Kahrs harvests his subjects from newspapers, magazines, films, advertisements and his personal archives. Both artists also embrace a similar technique. They derive at their final image by means of alteration. The latter can entail the blurring, cropping, or abstracting of the source material. However, Kahrs’s medium is painting and it is indeed his exquisite handling of paint that makes this show worthwhile. In this particular selection, he has captured moments that are rich in implicit drama. They either fall before or after a significant event. In “Untitled (man sitting)” for instance, we encounter an anonymous individual as he sits bandaged and bruised. Other than the shocking extent of his injuries, no further context is provided. As the subject’s head has been cropped, we can only speculate about his age and race. Because of this abstraction, Kahrs consciously denies us any emotional response or access to the victim. We might be stunned by the brutality of the scene, but the lack of information voids any true sensation of sympathy. Kahrs plays with this notion of detachment.

By numbing us, he comments on society’s progressing desensitization at large, which is largely due to the overwhelming amount of omnipresent scandalizing images. Like today’s mass media, Kahrs consciously provides us with ominous vagueness rather than clear facts. However, it is upon close inspection, when the image slowly gives way to intriguing layers of color, that we encounter a painter, whose appeal resides as much in his skill as it does in his message.

Through Oct. 22, at Luhring Augustine (31 W. 24th St.). Call 212-206-9100 or visit luhringaugustine.com.

SCRUFFY: Chip Hughes, Sadie Laska, Jocko Weyland

This small group exhibition focuses on three artists, who embrace an un-manicured vision. Their creative process involves the degenerative, decidedly unfinished re-processing of images. Their paintings are devoid of any sense of slickness or polish. Instead, they appear casual and somewhat laissez-faire. When asked to comment about works featured in the show Chip Hughes stated that he thought of his paintings as a kind of “T-shirt or a TV or monitor twisted offering something that is clear and unclear…images, words, symbols that have been altered, corrupted, destructed, inverted, reversed, confused, misused.” However, to assume that all is based on nonchalance is deceiving. Brilliantly selected by Kerry Schuss, SCRUFFY astonishes us as it transforms something seemingly vague into concrete works of art.

Through Nov. 5, at KS Art/Kerry Schuss (73 Leonard St.). Call 212-219-9918 or visit kerryschuss.com.