Victor Pesce at Elizabeth Harris Gallery; Irwin Kremen at ACA Galleries; Still Life at DC Moore.
Victor Pesce is a sly abstractionist who hugs the realist rail. His pared-down imagery refers to real objects but just barely. His interest is elsewhere.
Bottles, cups, boxes and pans avoid all suggestion of the culture of the table or human purpose. Devoid of detail and context, Mr. Pesce’s repertory of prosaic items serves as proxy forconceptual categories. His subjects are archetypes more than objects at hand. Imagery is pared to the bone without losing its architectural solidity.
|Pile of Boxes
Space is ambiguous, subordinated to color. Hints of shadow are partly teases, partly design elements to avoid monotony in near-monotone color zones. Color is where the excitement lies in these motifs. It has a bite that is as satisfying as it is unnatural. Acidic blues, yellows and greens are modulated by subtle transitions and relationships that act on the retina before we become aware of them.
The appeal of Mr. Pesce’s painting lies in his sense of scale and proportion. Single objects are endowed with monumentality, thanks to strong intuitions of the right ratio between an object and the color field surrounding it. In this show, he ventures onto new territory with amplified canvases that risk surrendering scale to mere size.
His striking “Pile of Boxes” (2003) or “A Matter of Time” (2003) succeed because the format, while larger than usual, retains Mr. Pesce’s characteristic sense of measure. In the first, four boxes rise to a cunning pyramid that is more stable than it first appears. In the second, everything depends on the rightness of the intervals between three rectangles. The pleasure of these paintings resides in the internal balance of simple parts.
But when a modest pictorial concept stretches to five feet long, as in “Seams, Corners, Shadows & Reflections” (2002), the effect flags. Upscaling increases the visual demand on surface variations, a requirement at cross purposes with Mr. Pesce’s uniform paint application. Not enough happens to keep the eye moving across the canvas. Because changes in scale alter expressive power, bigger is not always better.
A clinical psychologist and member of the Duke University faculty since 1963, Mr. Kremen has been making collages and constructions since 1966. His medium is the traditional modernist trove of worn papers and detritus, much of it industrial. What he makes of them is markedly personal and beguiling.
|Axial Red, Courtesy ACA Galleries, NY
On view are metal sculptures, wall constructions and collages, all of it a carnival of oddments. Mr. Kremen’s rusted forms, grave or whimsical by turns, are an impressive entity that warrants an exhibition of its own. His wall pieces are jauntily contemporary. But my favorites are his small collages. The transcendent beauty of them is a rare pleasure. They appear as fragments of ancient walls or something unearthed, resonant with memory.
Paper is particularly responsive to Mr. Kremen’s search for revelations inherent in discarded stuffs. He reworks the surfaces of found papers by scraping, painting, tearing and repositioning parts. The result of such loving engagement with materials is a lyrical body of work that is both contemplative and joyous. It makes the heart dance to look at them.
Nothing is too slight or discrepant to escape notice. Uninhibited alliances of incongruent matter (sand paper discs, compacted pieces of wasp’s next, snips of film, the dots left by a hole punch) farther-forth unified images richer and more satisfying than the art Olympiads uptown at the Whitney.
The collages, some no larger than five by four inches, summon the quietude and intimacy of the confessional. Small shards of things whisper their history to the viewer who must lean close to see. The sensuousness of Mr. Kremen’s surfaces is apparent only on near encounter.
Stay awhile with the tiny “Redux” (1994-02), a frail cluster of variegated grays and muted color poised for dispersion. Elements are delicately hinged, not glued, to their support. Hinging maintains the tactile character of edges, enhancing the materiality of micro units whose cast shadows become part of the design. It is a vivid meditation on the gossamer weight of time.
The genius of still life lies in its ability to find structure and intelligibility in the disorder of things around us. This feast of nearly forty modern and contemporary artists is especially strong on the moderns. DC Moore’s own stable is here but the greatest delights are older pieces placed by other galleries and private collectors.
Spend time with Joseph Stella’s richly inventive “Flowers" (1935), an uncharacteristic still life by Jacob Lawrence, and Byron Browne’s lively gouache “Study for Cabbage” (1937). Luigi Lucioni’s “Spanish Bottle” (1959) hangs in lustrous rebuke to fans of photorealism. How beautifully these works hold their own decades beyond their making.
Jane Wilson, a celebrated landscape painter, surprises us with the delectable “Turkish Tulips” (2003) and a 1971 still life that tips its hat to Fairfield Porter. Porter himself is represented by a ravishing breakfast table, buttery in color and texture. Alice Neel, Arshile Gorky, Robert Gwathmey, Max Weber and Marsden Hartley are happily represented. An elegant Stuart Davis abstraction is here; nearby, a surprisingly dull Milton Avery.
The exhibition extends into the offices. You are welcome to wander through. Be brave or you will miss some of the best offerings: an ethereal drawing by Walter Murch, a stunning table-top arrangement by Isabel Bishop, works by Guy Pène du Bois, Marguerite Zorach, Philip Evergood, Walt Kuhn, and more.
This essay was first published in The New York Sun, April 8, 2004.
“Victor Pesce” at Elizabeth Harris Gallery (529 West 20th Street, 212.263.9666).
“Irwin Kremen / Three in One: Collage Painting Sculpture” at ACA Galleries (529 West 20th Street, 212.206.8080).
“Everyday Mysteries: Modern & Contemporary Still Life” at DC Moore Galleries (724 Fifth Avenue.
©2004 Maureen Mullarkey