Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chelsea Gallery Notes: James Nares, Damien Hirst, Bill Jenson, Joel Sternfeld

Some highlights of the current group of shows up in Chelsea in January 2012.

James Nares is best known for his elegant brushstroke paintings: gestures which refer to Asian calligraphy scaled-up by means of home-made brushes and a harness system (which suspends Nares above the canvas) to create larger than life marks of the hand.

Paul Kasmin is showing a precursor to this body of work: James Nares 1976: Films and Other Works presents the artist engaged in a quasi-scientific study of mark making, gesture and motion. Involved in the studies are gravity, pendulums of various forms, and an engineer’s natural curiosity about how things work. This is one of the most fascinating and unusual exhibitions I’ve seen in some time because it gives insight into the creative process of the artist.


I had one of those a-hah moments connecting the dots between the motion of the pendulum and the suspended painter, linking through process two bodies of work that visually are so different. That kind of leap is what creativity is all about – and it is refreshing to see. Paul Kasmin Gallery, 515 W. 27th St., through February 11, 2012.

I say refreshing to see because it is a commonplace to say that with a lot of contemporary art, the art part is eclipsed by the merchandising and marketing aspects. This is obviously a lead in to Gagosian’s Damien Hirst extravaganza: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011More has been written about the economic and sociological aspects of Hirst’s work than the actual experience of looking at it, and for good reason. I was pre-disposed not to like this show, but to my surprise, there is something to see here.

There is a predicable retinal sensation produced by patterns of multiple discrete elements within a field – this was recognized by the Pointillists and provides the technical foundation of op-art since the 1960’s.  Many of the spot paintings – those with lots of relatively small spots -- trade on that kind of optical sensation and are not particularly remarkable. 


But there is a subset of the paintings that function in a surprising way. They have fewer elements, square grids of 9 or 16 spots. On these, the spots seem to hover above the ground of the canvas as if detached from it. Additionally, the composition – simple as it is – feels dynamic. The unusual decision not to leave any canvas between the spot and the edge is the reason for the sense of implied motion, pushing the spots on the perimeter outwards. It is an interesting and unexpected optical effect.

Gagosian Gallery, 555 W 24th St. and 522 W 21st St., through February 18, 2012. I think it is only necessary to see this work once; the installation at the 21st St. location is the stronger one.

I’d encourage anyone interested in painting to take a look at Bill Jenson’s work at Cheim and Read. Lush painterly abstractions, suggestive of both the subterranean and the subconscious, these are a real treat to see. Cheim & Read, 547 W 25th St., through February 18, 2012.

And finally, to relive the vibrance of the 1970’s, head over to Luhring Augustine to view First Pictures by Joel Sternfeld. Masterfully composed slices of life, taken with a gentle eye. Luhring Augustine,  531 W 24th, through February 4, 2012.

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