Sure enough, people were lined up down the block on January 10th, waiting for Metro Pictures to open their doors. If I were Bill Cunningham of The New York Times, I would have had lots of material for a feature on stylish glasses and fabulous winter hats. Just marvelous! There was an idea floated out that there was a small fortune to be made if one were prepared to back up the offer of "Cocoa! Get your hot cocoa here!" But at that moment, the crowd began to flood into the gallery for Postcards from the Edge, the benefit for Visual AIDS. Obviously, at the preview party the night before, many savvy collectors had pinpointed the pieces they had every intention of buying. In a nonstop blur of activity, things flew off the walls. My little drawing was purchased before I even located it myself. This annual benefit not only presents work of surprisingly high quality, but it tends to be managed extremely well thanks to smart staff and va-va-voom volunteers. The atmosphere is like a big party, and there really does seem to be something for everyone. My hope is that Visual AIDS raked in scads of dough, and I'll look forward to the recurrence of this event next year.
Our next stop was just down 24th St at Fredericks and Freiser, for John Wesley's show A Question of Women (through Feb 7). My biggest exposure to Wesley's work in person was at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, and perhaps then my mind was just too caught up with the overwhelming presences of Donald Judd and Dan Flavin to be able to fully appreciate him. This well-curated show was my Wesley moment of enlightenment. It brings together a number of canvases from private collections that have not shown in New York before and some from the artist's studio that have never before been exhibited. Their collective impact is disarming, disturbing, and delightfully captivating. Painted between 1992 and 2004, these paintings should be considered in context from an artist who, born in 1928, has been perfecting this style for over 50 years. As cool and controlled as they may be, given the tightly drawn lines, the flat application of paint and the specificity of palette, they are startlingly dramatic. Naughty and erotic in a slightly Betty Boop kind of way, the abstract elements of the canvases -- the colors, the quirky shapes (those eyelashes!), the negative spaces -- hold powerful sway in the overall experience of the paintings. It is tempting to think that the simplicity of art employing a comic-book style makes it easy for digital images on the web to adequately stand in for the in-person experience. That notion is particularly false with Wesley's paintings and although I've included links, I would strongly urge you to go see the show before viewing all the images on the gallery's website. With 65 solo shows under his belt, this may be one of Wesley's best yet, and that's saying something.
The next stop was BravinLee Programs on 26th Street, where John Lee treated us to a fascinating walk-through of Bhakti Baxter's exhibition After Certain Amounts of Breath. In order to enter the main room of the gallery, you must detour around the remaining fragments of sheetrock and metal studs that once comprised a dividing wall. There's a short, vicariously cathartic Youtube video of the artist creating (or should I say deconstructing?) it. The wall, and all the pieces in this show, relate to themes of temporality, mortality, and the pure energy of matter as it relates to existence. The featured work in the main gallery is a sequential series of large drawings on mylar depicting the gradual dissolution of the skeletal remains of a human couple, and their transformation or return to a kind of cosmic energy. The back gallery continues the idea, but on a more conceptual level. It has the makings of an intimate, yet spare, living room, in which one can sit and reflect a while. The decor of the room is subtle, yet purposeful: an Eames rocker invites the visitor with a possible reference to Charles and Ray Eames' film "The Powers of Ten", a film that looks at similarities of macro- and microcosmic views (Baxter offers another way to rock as well: there's a cassette deck playing, for those of you who remember what cassettes are); wall murals channel Albers' extensive series "Homage to the Square", and ideas of harmonious proportions; there's even a drawing of an agave plant to bring to mind the wonders of the Fibonacci sequence (a plus for this Fibonacci fan). The references may be a bit obscure, but the ambition to coalesce themes of love, life, death, decay, harmony, scientific phenomena, art history, and even some gentle humor, is heartening, particularly in that cynicism is nowhere to be found here.
Beating me to it, the New Yorker just highlighted Emna Zghal's exhibition at M.Y. Art Prospects. Emna's work may have been under your radar, but not long ago, she won a coveted purchase award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. This was her first solo show here of oils on canvas (as opposed to works on paper), and in the dead of winter, it gives you hope that Spring will indeed return. Without sticking to earthen tones or expected shapes, the bold colors and non-representational marks, lines, and gestures of these poetic canvases convey a love of nature: The rustling of leaves, the flow of water, the movement of a creature not quite seen, but sensed. They feel like fresh air and the outdoors without being sentimental or sweet. They express an energetic and layered space in a way that would have been impossible without Pollock, but which in no way seems derivative of him. This selection of works, finely done but never fussy, feels as refined and carefully edited as a sonnet.
[images starting at top: John Wesley, Question of Women, 1993, Acrylic on canvas: 42 x 49 inches; Bhakti Baxter, left to right: After certain amounts of breath 2008 india ink and dirt on mylar 59.25 x42 inches; Residual bodies 2008 india ink and dirt on mylar 61x42 inches; A dispersed way of being 2008 india ink enamel and dirt on mylar 61 x 42 inches; Emna Zghal Tree Threads, 2008, oil on canvas, 25 x 37 inches]