Landscape Enlivened / Collage Tamed
Contemporary landscape painting at Lohin Geduld Gallery; Ten years of collage at Pavel Zoubok Gallery

IS LANDSCAPE AN EXHAUSTED CONVENTION? The question surfaces in seminars and critical journals, anxiety fueled by the presumptions of Earth Art and Land Art. Tinged with regret over modernity’s visual impact on the planet, it originates more from politics than from interest in art. No painter would bother to ask it.

Sallie Bo Andrews, The Pond

“Landscaping,” a jaunty group show at Lohin Geduld, comes down decidedly in favor of the tradition’s continuing vitality. A large part of landscape’s vigor lies in its elasticity. The panorama of the mind as it considers natural beauty — or man’s tracks across it — has become as much a component of the genre as representations of scenic beauty. Fifteen artists bring individual pictorial concerns and painterly inventions to the subject. Work divides between depiction and evocative abstraction; no two approaches are identical.

John Walker and Bernard Chaet emphasize the tension between mimetic traditions of painting and the activity of artmaking. Mr. Walker’s darkened, untitled oil is typical of the Grendel’s mere he makes of the land around his home in Seal Island, Maine. Turner’s “Morning Amongst the Coniston Fells” (1798) lies just beneath the restless surface of his compositions. Impressionist desire to render optical sensation resonates in Mr. Chaet’s “June’s Measure” (2003-2006). While Mr. Chaet is more attentive to the scaffolding of the visible world, both men make effective use of loaded strokes to convey the excitement of on-the-spot experience.

Lois Dodd’s “Tree Shadow” (2003) is a study in formal elegance. A single tree trunk rises against a vertical glade, separated from the foreground by a horizontal stripe of yellow light. Without sacrificing plein air immediacy, it underscores the eye’s affinity for ordered patterns in nature. Judy Koons’s two traditional Italian views deploy a studied haze that is as much manner as atmosphere. Tonal control is admirable yet the paintings are oddly blank. Her motifs matter less than the grey shroud over them. Megan Bisbee’s “What We Carry” (2006), a formless riot of electric color, might have been an enchanted garden if she gave structure its due. Landscape is more than a synonym for whatever-goes expressionism.

Robert Harms’s early start as Joan Mitchell’s studio assistant and protégé is visible at first glance. But that is okay. His blend of Abstract and Lyrical Expressionism is graceful and convincing. Mitchell’s ghost has something to be jealous about. Mr. Harm grants the natural world its own necessity, manipulating the blues and greens of a pondside locale to suggest the dance of light on water.

Balance between nature and culture tips toward the man-made in Elizabeth O’Reilly’s “Disused Gas Station, East Marion” (2006) and “Railroad Track, North Carolina” (2006). It collapses altogether in Erika Wastrom’s “Air Rights” (2006), an improbable burlesque of real estate development. And it rises to a dazzling resolution in Joel Werring’s “Dwellings” (2005), an airy, color-soaked nexus of bird houses and antic rookeries. The kaleidoscopic composition is an aggregate of fractures that make your eye plunge and dart between perches as any swooping robin might. Vigorous drawing joins off-beat compositional rhythms that mark Mr. Werring as a formidable and appealing young painter.


MODERNISM’S PASTED PAPER REVOLUTION IS OVER. Collage and all its progeny — from assemblage and photomontage to today’s infinity of mixed media — have entered the grammar of contemporary art. Now we can enjoy playful artifices and juxtapositions without pretending that scissors and glue are tools of real insurgencies. A lively summary of the medium’s range is on view at Pavel Zoubok Gallery. “The New Collage” packs the walls with work created over the last ten years by 52 artists.

Lance Letscher
Lance Letscher, Thin Girl

An art of interruption in both the formal and metaphoric sense, collage adapts to the fragmentary quality of perception. A hybrid art, collage achieves its effects by selection and accretion. The loveliest of these pieces pay close attention to the formal potential of materials, their surfaces, tonal shifts and edges. The quietude of John Fraser’s fragile composition of pasted papers is a shy meditation on the simplicity of intelligible beauty. So, too, is Simon Neville’s arrangement of five small rectangles in dappled earthen tones.

Collages’s capacity to transfigure detritus is one of its keenest pleasures. Michael Cooper’s “Sixteen Black Things” (2006) aligns discountable piffles — a halved domino, a dress label, an alarm button, a sample fabric card, etc. — into a chic set of tiny reminders that every manufactured tatter we lay eyes on is something designed and crafted. Jerry Mischak’s “Migration II, North Coast” (2006) sets snippets of color on a stroll across a field of duct tape. Who knew how engaging duct tape could be?

Lance Letscher contemporizes the formal inventiveness of old quilts with discarded papers, cut and assembled in an elongated, asymmetrical variation on the Log Cabin pattern. Mark Wagner’s whimsical “Flora” (2006), constructed from fastidiously cut dollar bills, points seriously to the overlooked beauty of the engraving on currency. Matthew Cusick draws with portions of old maps inlaid, like mosaic, according to their color and patterning.

Computers and desk-top publishing software have extended the vocabulary of collage. The swirling network of Nora Aslan’s intricate tondo “Game Rules, Hidden” (2005) builds from scanned images of roller coaster structures. Its ingenuity is secondary to the delicate beauty of eddying lines and subtle increases of tonal temperature. Karen Weiner’s fanciful “Angangueuo” (2006) is a 3-D wreath of scanned butterfly illustrations.

Acrylic gel is the new glue. Christian Rossi uses it to encase delicate markings, like flies in amber. Fred Tomaselli creates transparent layers with it. But technique is not a substitute for sensibility. Everything on view is deft and clever. And some of it sings.


“Landscaping” at Lohin Geduld Gallery (531 West 25th Street, 212-675-2656).

“The New Collage” at Pavel Zoubek Gallery (533 West 23rd Street, 212-675-7490).

This review first appeared in The New York Sun, June 29, 2006.

Copyright 2006 Maureen Mullarkey

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