In a body of work that drapes over the edge what was and what will be, Futura2000’s Tarpestries summon up the memory of a grittier (and perhaps more exciting) New York City subway as much as they do your favourite scenes from Dr. Who and Blade Runner. There are than 20 of these upstretched “tapestries” on view, which range from seven to 25 feet, at Eric Firestone’s two locations in East Hampton. The monumental size gives viewers the chance to see Futura2000’s work in its natural form: large scale, enveloping, as if it was once part of the city. The tapestries is juxtaposed with a massive bronze sculpture of “39 Meg", the robotic visitor from another planet that has beamed its way into the artist’s work on more than one occasion.
When Shirley Gorelick was in high school in the late 1930s, she took art classes on weekends and in the summers from the sculptor Chaim Gross and painters Moses and Raphael Soyer at the Education Alliance in New York City. Still early in the search for her own visual style, she was already quietly rebellious. She recalled in 1968 that “the painting class didn’t interest me. It was too crowded and I couldn’t see. And I felt I had to be right up front to see.” But Gorelick did pursue painting, landing in the late 1960s as a masterful painter of large-scale, realist figures. In these portraits, which she made through the early 1980s, that imperative to be right up front takes the form of a close attention to her subjects and the exchange that occurs between them and the viewer. Larger than life-size, the figures crowd into our space, so near that sometimes their bodies are truncated by the edges of the canvas.
“Family,” a new exhibition curated by Max Warsh at Eric Firestone Gallery in New York, gives an overdue look at Gorelick’s intimate and psychologically penetrating portraits of the five families who mattered most to her. These were people who did not then typically find themselves the subjects of art: middle-aged women, disabled people, mixed-race families, and older couples. David Ourlicht, one of Gorelick’s subjects and the son of Libby Dickerson, the model to whom Gorelick returned most often, said of his mother’s involvement, “The personal relationship came first.” The two women shared progressive politics, he said. “It was equal rights, women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights.”
"Collage/Assemblage," on view through Aug. 6 at Eric Firestone Gallery in East Hampton, juxtaposes the work of historic and contemporary artists who use collage and assemblage in their practices. Among them are Shinique Smith and Emmanuel Massillon, whose work explores issues of identity and hybridity; Joe Overstreet, who collages strips of acrylic paint over his stretched canvases; James Phillips, whose compositions reflect his association with AfriCOBRA, a Chicago-based group of African-American artists, and Varnette Honeywood, Judy Bowman, and Derrick Adams, whose collage works celebrate Black culture.
"Holy Water," an exhibition of work by more than 20 contemporary artists from around the world, will open at Eric Firestone Gallery's Garage, 62 Newtown Lane in East Hampton, with a reception Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. It will continue through July 24. The artists were invited to create works responding to the theme of water. Fishing and surfing, baptism and migration, ordinary marine life and fantastical sea gods and monsters are among the subjects.
Larger-than-life terracotta heads form an operatic visual finale in Eric Firestone Gallery’s exhibition Reuben Kadish: Earth Mothers. An amalgam of human beings and some strange subspecies, these crenellated heads, which look as if they were built from jagged scree, radiate a silent nobility. Frozen in semi-repose or grim rumination, or perhaps caught in death throes, they loom like beatific elders from a civilization wiped out by divine ordination, or by some cosmic whim.
In fact, confronting the unimaginably real, and responding to premonitions of cataclysm and its aftermath, inform sculptor Reuben Kadish’s art as well as his biography. Born in Chicago in 1913 and raised in Los Angeles, he attended high school with Jackson Pollock, a lifelong friend, and furthered his studies at Otis Art Institute (now Otis College of Art and Design) in 1930 before apprenticing under Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. Amid the political despair of the mid-1930s, he traveled to Morelia in Mexico and, collaborating with Philip Guston, created a 1,000-foot mural, “The Struggle Against War and Fascism” (1934–35) — a nightmarish epic that rang alarms about global far-right political terror and its concomitant militaristic barbarisms.
But the mural project was only the first act in Kadish’s artistic interventions based on humanity’s universal inhumanity. During World War II, while in the US Army Artist Unit, he was commissioned to photograph civilian carnage in Burma and India, savageries that he further memorialized in pen-and-ink sketches. These acts of witness presumably gave rise to the artist’s poignant, sublimated ethics of paying close, empathic attention to corporeal anguish.
The abundance of artwork in Earth Mothers, along with the works’ varied scale and psychological tenor, make sculpture seem like Kadish’s destiny from day one. But he only committed to it in full after a studio fire in the late 1940s destroyed most of his paintings. The surviving canvases — many done in what came to be known as an Abstract Expressionist mode — are featured here and underscore how, in turning from purely abstract painting to imaginative and figurative sculpture, he found a far more suitable métier for cultivating and refining an existential outlook.
Partly instigated by the archeological fieldwork of his wife, Barbara Weeks, who introduced him to ancient sculptures from far-flung times and epochs, especially from the Kingdom of Benin and the Aztec Empire, Kadish tirelessly produced one sculptural series after another until his death in 1992.
It started with an exhibition catalog from the 1970s—one with eerily contemporary work and the names of two largely overlooked female artists, Eva Hesse and Nina Yankowitz. Both had been rightfully featured in the 1970 Emily Lowe Gallery exhibition in Hempstead, New York, but their work had been victimized by systematic failure. Female artists in the 1970s—especially those finding creative inspiration outside of New York City—rarely found a market foothold and, to Eric Firestone, needed a proper reintroduction for today’s audiences. For Firestone, the catalog was a catalyst and a moral obligation to reignite dialogue around Yankowitz and Hesse, and present them amongst their peers in the gallery's current show, "Hanging/Leaning: Women Artists on Long Island, the 1960s-80s." Firestone was sold when Yankowitz pulled out Sagging Spiro (1969) from her "Draped Painting" series of linen panels. “They feel so relevant and fresh and in dialogue with multiple artists,” says Firestone. “Once people know about this work. I think it's going to be a revelation.” The mixed media piece, which hangs front and center of Firestone’s Newton Lane outpost in East Hampton, sings with the same harmony as Sam Gilliam and Katherine Grosse, though Sagging Spiro predated the artists by three and 30 odd years, respectively. The work is a perfect introduction for the mixed-media exhibition, which plays with Long Island’s geographic surroundings, the beat-poet vibe of the '60s- and '70s-era Hamptons and general energetic joy in the unsung.
ERIC FIRESTONE GALLERY | NEW YORK
Pat Passlof (1928–2011) was an important figure in the development of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. She was there from the beginning and, indeed, one of its incubators. In 1948, she studied with Willem de Kooning at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, the place to be if one wanted to become an avant-garde artist. That was also the year Arshile Gorky committed suicide; his Surrealized take on abstraction, along with that of his friend de Kooning, remained an influence on Passlof. But as “Memories of Tenth Street: Paintings by Pat Passlof, 1948–63”—a presentation at Eric Firestone Gallery that featured a thoughtful selection of works the artist created in Manhattan’s East Village at the titular address—made abidingly clear, Passlof’s painterly innovations eschewed the aggressive grandiosity of her mentors for something more lyrical, intimate, and inviting. Even though Untitled, 1950, with its thin black lines and planar, smeary sections of pale gold and white, seems indebted to Gorky’s paintings, and Theater, 1957, with its turbulent facture and thick encrustations of dirty violet, red, and fawn, carry a generous dose of de Kooning’s method, Passlof truly astonishes in such delicate, subtle works as Miss Julia, 1961, with its quivering, luminescent surface awash in sundry pinks, yellows, browns, and blues radiating from a loosened grid. In this “pure” abstraction, Passlof achieves aesthetic independence. “The being of the work of art yields itself only through its sensuous presence,” French phenomenologist Mikel Dufrenne wrote, “which allows [us] to apprehend it as an aesthetic object.” Outgrowing the lessons of her confreres, Passlof comes into her own with extraordinary sensuousness. It seems safe to say that without Black Mountain College there would have been little or no future for avant-garde art. (And Europe, where it had developed, had become a war-torn ruin by 1948.) It is important to emphasize the year Passlof began studying with de Kooning: The New World was the place to revivify the sensation of the new, which had become timeworn and stale in the Old World. It also seems safe to say that Passlof’s transcendental aesthetic, and its subliminal affinity with American Luminism, surpasses the more earthbound—dare one say heavy-handed?—work of de Kooning and Gorky.
Passlof was instrumental in the restoration of vanguard culture in more ways than one. As the gallery’s press release tells us: “In 1949, Passlof helped renovate the Eighth Street loft, which was the first location of ‘The (Artists’) Club,’ attending every talk and panel. Noticing that many of her peers rarely spoke when they came to the Club, she decided to organize an alternative ‘Wednesday Night Club,’ envisioning it as a kind of ‘junior club.’ The Wednesday evening sessions quickly became popular, leading the old guard to squelch it for fear of competition.” Clearly, Passlof was in the thick of it, fearlessly holding her own despite the condescending dismissal of her paintings as retardataire—“more ‘impressionistic’ than ‘abstract,’” as Donald Judd once wrote, along with his trivialization of her color as “somewhat sweet,” another coyly misogynist characterization. Certainly Passlof’s paintings don’t climb the wall like desperate, erect penises the way Judd’s sculptures do, the boxes that constitute them a record of so many feckless orgasms. If the Abstract Expressionists were masturbators of gesture, then Judd was a masturbator of geometry. These were so-called big men: They always seemed to live in fear of the “junior club,” i.e., smart, pioneering women.
— Donald Kuspit
Thomas Sills (1914-2000) is, for many contemporary viewers, a discovery: Much of the work in “Variegations, Paintings From the 1950s-70s” at Eric Firestone was in storage before being mounted here. Sills was hardly unknown during his lifetime, though. He socialized with New York School painters like Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko and had several solo exhibitions at the historically significant Betty Parsons Gallery before receding from the art world around 1980.
Sills’s paintings here include many of the traditional mid-20th-century New York School concerns. Abstract canvases with colored interlocking forms like “Travel” (1958) and “Son Bright” (1975) have a vibrant, dynamic tension similar to works by Lee Krasner and Piet Mondrian, who played with the painterly grid, and with the fleshy, promiscuous pink favored by de Kooning. Sills’s surfaces are also notable. He used rags instead of brushes to finish his paintings, and this gives the pigment a particularly even look, beautifully integrated into the canvas surface.
So why was he forgotten? One reason was that Sills was a largely self-taught African American artist. Born to sharecroppers in North Carolina, he moved to Harlem as a child before becoming part of the New York art world. Another reason: There are some pretty weird, spectral canvases here, like “Easter Holliday” (1955) and “The Morning” (1954), which has a perky, pink bird at its center. Spiritualist and transcendentalist painting, which flourished outside New York, is being re-evaluated today (think Hilma af Klint and Agnes Pelton). Sills’s jazzy, cool and skillful abstractions offer another case of welcome rediscovery.
In 1972, this Afrofuturist abstract painter—who died in Brooklyn in 2011—wrote of his desire to “mirror the dynamo of our antecedent heritage despite the temerarious and presumptuous canons of the established art world.” Those poetic words introduce the artist’s current show, at the Eric Firestone gallery, echoing the blazing refinement, the style, and the priorities of the vivid works on view, made between 1969 and 1979. Ausby introduced the forms and the palette of traditional African art into both the geometric sensibility of American hard-edge painting and, later, the post-minimalist sensuality of the Pattern and Decoration movement. The earliest pieces here, including the exhilarating “Moving It,” from 1970, suggest enlarged swatches of kente cloth. In subsequent multipart compositions—such as “Shabazz,” from 1974, with its rich hues and pointed barbell silhouette—Ausby liberated the canvas from its stretchers to stunning effect. These works seem to float, kitelike, on the white walls, giving fresh meaning to the exhibition’s title, which is borrowed from a Sun Ra song: “Somewhere in Space.”
— Johanna Fateman
Eric Firestone Gallery, 228
Born in Anniston, Ala., and raised in Brooklyn, Jamillah Jennings gained some notice as a sculptor, showing with her husband, the painter Ellsworth Ausby. But in the late 1980s, she started making acrylic-on-paper, photo-based paintings of her father and other Black World War II veterans, as well as other friends and family, and this is the first time the results have ever been shown. With bright, solid-color backgrounds and pale eyes, the portraits knock you out with their candor; their subtle sophistication registers more slowly. Don’t miss the 15 hanging inside the booth’s closet — or two fabulous geometric paintings by Ausby.
Walls of flesh, walls of skin. I meet this at Galleri Larsen/ Warner, where I am overwhelmed by Marta Edelheit's paintings from the 1960s and 70s. Edelheit has lived in Sweden since the 1990s, but during the previously mentioned decades she was in the middle of the action, in New York's avant-garde art scene, in the city where she herself was born and worked for many years. Works from this period are now displayed in two small gallery rooms on bstermalm in what is Edelheit's first exhibition in Stockholm in a couple of decades. Sometimes her naked bodies are close, completely enlarged in a way that almost obscures what you look at: from the lines of the small pastel drawings, zoomed in almost abstraction, you can read the volume of a thigh, the folds of the vulva, the roundness of the buttocks. The color scale is strong, you could call it psychedelic, but I prefer to call it fruity: together with the more skin-friendly tones of peach, blushing inside, blue and green and yellow are found. A milky pink nipple is paired with the colors of an overripe banana. Edelheit's color management is phenomenal. In the drawings, it appears to be both inviting, tempting and a little repulsive.
Eyes that are sometimes closed, like closed in a sweet intoxication, sometimes turned away, sometimes angled straight towards the viewer. It is only when elements of voyeurism affect one. As in A View of Lake Atitian (1973) where the nickel-yellow woman in the armchair locks her eyes in one. In the other paintings, the painted ones are rather enclosed in themselves. In the kaleidoscope -linking form where the same person reappears at different angles on the same painting, a dreamlike dimension is added to these enchanted portraits.
ERIC FIRESTONE GALLERY | NEW YORK
In 1958, Clement Greenberg penned a short essay that posited aesthetic parallels between Byzantine art and modernism. Despite their differences, he said, these movements were united by an emphatic pictorialism, their transcendent qualities tied up with a shared repudiation of illusionism. In this text, the critic cited the work of certain painters, such as Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko, as examples. “This new kind of modernist picture,” Greenberg wrote, “like the Byzantine gold and glass mosaic, comes forward to fill the space between itself and the spectator with its radiance.”
During the acent of Abstract Expressionism, Reynal reinvented the art of msaics, embracing lyrical geometries and biomorphism in a glimmering, varied body of wall-mounted and freestanding works. This bountiful survey, filling two floors at Eric Firestone Gallery, spans three decades of the New York School artist's career, from 1940-1970. (Reynal died in 1983, at the age of eighty.) Her novel approach involved a degree of spontaneity that is not usually assocated with the ancient medium; a short documentary on view, from 1968 captures Reynal speedily sketching into wet cement and scattering stone tiles. Her early compositions are flat and graphic, as examplified ina 1943 collaboration with Isamu Noguchi, for which she decorated the surface of a low triangular table. But moody, encrusted works fromt he fifties play up the craggy topographical potential of mosaics, which Reynal studied with a Russian master, in Paris, in the ninteen-thirties. By 1970, her pieces had become quai-figrative, seen here in striking procession of undulating, patterned pillars rising from a bed of white gravel.
Raised in and around New York by French parents, Jeanne Reynal (1903-83) spent most of the 1930s apprenticed to a Russian mosaicist in Paris. She came back with strong opinions: Mosaic was neither painting nor sculpture, she wrote in a 1964 monograph, and Renaissance artists had “taken an ax” to the ancient art form by laying their tiles flush instead of letting them protrude to catch the light.
Policing genre boundaries no longer seems so important. But the strongest pieces in this show, titled “Mosaic Is Light: Work by Jeanne Reynal, 1940-1970,” derive much of their considerable impact from their disconcerting perch between painting and sculpture.
“Ogo,” a cement-on-board panel just over 4 feet by 5 feet, is a busy abstract whorl of reds, grays and blacks. As a painting, it would be overwrought. But the variety of its textures — the pits, the streaks, the unexpected glitters as you shift from foot to foot — draw your attention away from the composition and, in a way, counterbalance it. Three 1959 monochromes — a flat red hexagon, an enormous yellow diamond, and a triptych of blue squares, all of them strewn with broken glass and mother-of-pearl — go further, wringing so much action out of a broken surface that the very notion of a flat one comes to seem absurd.
Seven elegant monoliths that Reynal made in the early ’70s after a trip to Africa do something like the opposite. Covered with red, black and gold tiles so shiny they’re almost reflective, and studded, in one case, with palm-size pieces of mother-of-pearl, their surfaces dazzle, letting their sinuous shapes slip right behind your eyes.
“Futura 2000” at Eric Firestone Gallery
Born in New York City in 1955, Futura 2000 (Leonard Hilton McGurr) emerged as one of the pioneering graffiti artists of the 1970s, tagging subway cars and Bowery walls, and showing works alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring at the pivotal 1980 Times Square show. Now, after a career focused on abstract art (still inflected with spray-paint and graffiti-gestures) Futura 2000 is finally getting a long-awaited solo exhibition at Eric Firestone’s ground floor space. The show features more than 20 new paintings inspired by the artist’s fascination with science fiction and natural phenomena.
The week before he turned 65, Futura was contemplating his legacy. Considered one of the progenitors of graffiti art, and one of its most recognizable figures, he was sitting in Eric Firestone Gallery in NoHo, where “Futura 2020,” his first solo exhibition in New York in 30 years, is on view. Across the river, in Queens, his installation at the Noguchi Museum, a suite of hand-painted Akari lanterns, had opened the day before. Futura, who is rangy and was wearing a wool knit cap pulled to just above his eyes and a jacket from his recent collection with Comme des Garçons, was discussing the long arc of his career, one that has taken him from painting in unlit subway tunnels to working for the United States Postal Service to being a frequent presence in the global luxury fashion market.
“My ambition to be successful in a monetary way never interested me,” he said. “I just wanted to support my family, take care of my children” — he has two. “As it turns out, I’m actually doing much better now, so I guess it’s a question of my patience. I stayed even when things weren’t there for me, or I saw other people running past me on the track of life. But here I am.”
The artist known as Futura — to close friends, he’s Lenny — estimates that he visited around 17 countries last year. This year looks much different; he’s spent the majority of 2020 at home in New York.
He’s discovered that there’s plenty upside to staying close to home, including “Futura 2020,” his first solo gallery show in New York in 30 years, and the release of his eponymously titled monograph with Rizzoli.
On a recent rainy afternoon, Futura walks into the Eric Firestone Gallery in NoHo with a small cardboard box nestled in the crook of his arm. Inside are six cans of spray paint and a blue 3-D-printed version of his signature, which he’s been using as a reverse stencil to sign work. Despite being grounded by the pandemic, the artist is still busy as ever; he’s in the midst of working on a project with the Noguchi museum, painting lamps for an exclusive exhibition (hence the box of paint).
EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. — The art collectors were finally coming out of hiding here recently, albeit quietly and tentative-ly. The artists were, too. The lure? All of a sudden, they have a lot more gallery options lining the immaculate streets of this famously upscale summer town, a seemingly unexpected development in the middle of a pandemic. Since the beginning of June, five major art galleries have opened here: Pace, Skarstedt, Van de Weghe, Michael Werner and So-theby’s, all arms of New York art powerhouses. And more are on the way soon, in Montauk (Amalia Dayan and Adam Lindemann’s new venture, South Etna Montauk) and Southampton (Hauser & Wirth).
In October, the The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation opened its third exhibition, “Pat Passlof: The Brush Is the Finger of the Brain,” a survey of Passlof’s paintings curated by Karen Wilkin. Comprising twenty-six works on three floors, the show efficiently and effectively samples Passlof’s art from 1949 to 2011. Although she showed regularly in New York galleries (in recent decades, primarily at Elizabeth Harris), Passlof often garnered more attention for her active art-scene presence and her associations with other artists than for her own work. Happily, this seems to be changing. In 2017 the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired its first work by Passlof, a ca. 1950 oil on paper that the museum has already shown twice, in “Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction” in 2017 and in the current reinstallation of the collection.
Frieze New York proved surprisingly robust, answering the question, “Can a fair survive online?”
Eric Firestone, who sold Charles Duback’s 1960 oil on canvas “Black and White (Anne Waterhouse)” on opening day for $200,000, said he appreciated the data feedback, which told him which works got the most views and how long they were viewed. He also said the price transparency was a welcome development. “It’s very intimidating sometimes for the viewer to ask what a painting price is,” he said. “It helps level the playing field to say, ‘This is what we’re asking.’”
Last year the Armory Show weathered a crisis when Pier 92 over the Hudson River was condemned shortly before the art fair opened, precipitating a last-minute reshuffling of booths and the shutting down of a satellite display.
Founded in 1994 by four gallerists—Colin de Land, Pat Hearn, Matthew Marks, and Paul Morris—the Armory Show began life as the Gramercy International Art Fair, a yearly event at which art dealers took over rooms in the then-funky Gramercy Park Hotel, displaying art on chipped bureaus and in dimly lit bathrooms.
On an evening in December, 1980, the photographer Tseng Kwong Chi gate-crashed the party of the year: the gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was the opening night of “The Manchu Dragon,” an exhibition (organized by Diana Vreeland) of Chinese costume from the Qing dynasty.
For most of the last four decades, Pattern and Decoration art seemed wonderfully outré to many observers, an eccentric violation of the standards and norms of serious painting and sculpture that was itself not to be taken too seriously.
Figurative paintings by three Americans reflect the shifting social and sexual mores of the nineteen-sixties and seventies in this wonderful show, whose title is borrowed from a 1962 essay by Dore Ashton.
When Henry Chalfant sees ads on the sides of today’s subway trains, he often mistakes them for the graffiti he used to photograph in the 1970s and ‘80s.
On the busy thoroughfare of Grand Concourse in the south Bronx stands a contemporary building resembling origami folds. Home to the Bronx Museum of the Arts, this cultural institution offers the Bronx and greater New York City seasonal exhibitions and an impressive permanent art collection. Currently on display is Henry Chalfant’s graffiti archive and Alvin Baltrop’s queer photography. The museum relies on donations and grants to guarantee free entry to all visitors, so a celebratory fundraiser dinner was a natural fit. 2019 marked the museum’s inaugural BxMA Ball, a multi-sensory gala co-chaired by Angel Otero and Jerome Lamaar.
When Henry Chalfant arrived in New York City from suburban Pittsburgh in 1973, as an aspiring sculptor, he found a place teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. This was “Ford to City: Drop Dead” New York. But amid the turmoil a new form of art making was taking shape — one that took up space where it could, which was mostly everywhere.
Joe Overstreet’s 1972 unstretched, untitled canvas unfurls from the wall in a similar fashion to Eric N. Mack’s “Pelle Pelle” (2017), which is made with a microfiber blanket, polyester fabric and silk curtains tacked to the wall. Paintings and assemblages from the ’70s based on the grid by Joan Snyder, Howardena Pindell, Sean Scully and Al Loving sit comfortably next to more recent riffs on geometry by Sadie Benning, Matt Connors and Dona Nelson.
Titled “Double Portrait,” this electrifying exhibition unites Mimi Gross and Marcia Marcus, who began making figurative paintings in the 1950s. Born 12 years apart, Ms. Marcus and Ms. Gross crossed paths in downtown New York, as well as on sojourns to Italy and Provincetown. Both were putting paint to canvas at a time when Minimalism and Conceptualism reigned supreme, and both were interested in representations of their gender.
The exhibition title “Go Figure” at the Eric Firestone Gallery in East Hampton has multiple meanings, which suits an exhibition that exuberantly presents a plethora of ways to address the genre of figurative art.
Often double and even triple hanging, the show appears to be a salon-style exhibition from afar, but once inside, cohesion becomes readily apparent. Beth Rudin DeWoody, a collector known for her discerning eye and ability to launch artistic careers just from a single purchase, served as curator. She brought together artists who came of age in the mid-20th century, many from the Firestone inventory, with contemporary artists. For years she had a house in the Shinnecock Hills artist colony enclave and is well familiar with the artists who have lived and worked here over the decades.
I was reminded of the phrase, Other Traditions (2001), the collective title John Ashbery gave to the publication of his six Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard University, when I was looking at Marcia Marcus’s grisaille portrait of “Edwin Dickinson” (1972) in the timely exhibition, Double Portrait: Mimi Gross and Marcia Marcus, at the Shirley Fiterman Art Center at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (May 23–July 27, 2019), curated by Lisa Panzera.
Among Friends: 1958–63, the exhibition of Mimi Gross’s paintings and drawings from the early 1960s at Eric Firestone Gallery, is not only a sheer visual pleasure, it also adds to our understanding of American modern art. Like so many “re-discovered” bodies of work, usually by women, it reveals dimensions of artistic practice that were always present but never given critical attention within certain over-determined narratives of 20th-century art.
Practically overflowing with radiant portraits, “Mimi Gross: Among Friends, 1958–63” at Eric Firestone Loft should be of the major crowd-pleasers of the moment, but it feels like it’s flying under the radar. Channeling a rare, quicksilver sense for detail, Gross was only in her late teens and early 20s when she made these pieces in crayon, paint, and pastel, working in New York, Provincetown, and Europe, where she and friends traveled northern Italy by horse-drawn carriage, doing shadow-puppet shows in small villages. (To think that young artists today believe a night at Berghain is bohemia!) Two highlights of many: Grand Street Boys and Grand Street Girls (both 1963), whose many young sitters look interesting enough to sustain a few seasons of prestige television about the Lower East Side during the Kennedy years. The show depicts an artistic life that was just getting started, and already being lived very well.
The exhibition Mimi Gross: Among Friends, 1958-1963 helps to set the record straight: Gross was a strong, confident artist when she met Red Grooms at the age of 18, and that her work continued to grow right up to their marriage in 1964.
This amazing Noho gallery is lighting up the past with the enormous “flesh wall” paintings of Martha Edelheit. Born in New York in 1931, she is still painting and, judging from what’s here, has one of the most mysteriously erotic-hot inner lives of any painter of the 1960s. Witness lounging female and male bodies and men with enormous erections performing acrobatics for women.
Martha Edelheit is yet another indication that 20th-century art history is still under construction, with large areas unfinished or invisible. Ms. Edelheit was included in last year’s “Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965” at the Grey Art Gallery, which featured several artists unfamiliar to wider audiences. Now “Flesh Walls: Tales From the 60s” at Eric Firestone is devoted to Ms. Edelheit’s work from that era. She was part of the downtown, artist-run Reuben Gallery, where she had her first solo show in 1960. The “Flesh Walls” title is not metaphorical or accidental. Ms. Edelheit’s meaty, sexy paintings and drawings iterate tales of the sexually permissive ’60s. She approached the human body through the skin, inspired initially by the writings of the anthropologist Claude LeviStrauss, who suggested that the body was the original canvas for painting, in the form of tattoos.
Joe Overstreet’s experimental paintings from the early 1970s were made to be suspended from ceilings and tied to floors using a system of ropes and grommets. As a result, they occupy a good deal of three-dimensional space, and by design their shapes change every time they are installed, depending on how they are stretched out, draped, or crumpled. In some works, such as St. Expedite II and Untitled, both 1971, and Untitled, 1972, Overstreet has painted squares of canvas in solid colors-red, green, navy blue, deep purple-edged in contrasting stripes. Other works, such as the enormous Boxes, 1970, play with vibrant patterns of geometric abstraction but, at the same time, appear haunted by the ghosts of earlier, more figurative gestures.
“Abstraction represents self-determination and free will.” So avowed the painter James Little at a recent panel discussion held in conjunction with an exhibition of works by his fellow painter Joe Overstreet, but with the broader purpose of examining the question of “Black Artists and the Abstraction Idiom.” Little’s ringing declaration of aesthetic independence was couched in a language both explicitly political (self-determination being a right underwritten by the United Nations in its 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, which held that “All peoples have the right to…freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”) as well as theological (though the problem of free will has earlier roots, it became urgent when Christian thinkers had to explain the origin of sin and damnation in a world created by a perfect and benevolent God). The implication of Little’s statement is that abstract art, by eschewing the forms of representation through which political and religious narratives are conveyed, enacts and exemplifies a kind of self-emancipation.
In a 1989 interview, the artist Miriam Schapiro discussed her admiration for “heroines” like Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and Frida Kahlo. Noting their rather fraught lives, she said “that doesn’t stop you from expressing your point of view in whatever manner you choose to do it.” In the 1970s, Schapiro herself chose to make craft works that she termed “femmages” (a portmanteau of “feminine” and “collage”), which staked a claim for women, both in the art world and outside it, by centering the home as a site of resilience and subversion. And she certainly lived by these principles of resistance, deliberately situating her practice against artistic norms of her day.
The history of postwar American abstract painting remains a work in progress. We are barely beginning to understand its sheer multiplicity in terms of the artists’ races and cultures and the works’ physical character. New information arrives in regular and humbling batches. The latest is Joe Overstreet’s stunning exhibition “Innovation of Flight, Paintings 1967-1972” at Eric Firestone. With 20 rarely seen works, it covers a brief period when Mr. Overstreet’s disavowal of painting’s usual standards and practices was unfolding rapidly in several directions, alongside efforts by Sam Gilliam, Harmony Hammond, Alan Shields and Howardena Pindell, among others.
New York artist Marcia Marcus (b. 1928) emerged mid-century as a promising painter of portraits and figurative tableaux, depicting herself, friends, and acquaintances in scenes that often have a mythological or theatrical feel. In the early 1950s, she studied painting at Cooper Union, where her peers included Alex Katz and Lois Dodd, and shortly thereafter attended the Art Students League, where she absorbed the lessons of Edwin Dickinson. She collaborated on Happenings with Allan Kaprow and, in 1960, showed a series of self-portraits at the Delancey Street Museum, an alternative space run by Red Grooms. Despite an impressive exhibition record and a peer group of downtown luminaries, Marcus eventually fell into obscurity. The recent show at Eric Firestone included twenty-four paintings she made between 1958 and 1973, amounting to a small-scale retrospective for this audacious and fascinating artist.
Marcia Marcus Through Dec. 2. Eric Firestone Gallery, 4 Great Jones Street. Art history is in constant flux, as you can see by the recent rise of artists who were left out of earlier narratives. This year, the exhibition “Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965,” at the Grey Art Gallery, featured many overlooked artists whose contributions to mid-20th-century art are noteworthy. One of them is the painter Marcia Marcus, whose work is currently on view in “Role Play: Paintings 1958-1973” at Eric Firestone Gallery.
The twenty-three paintings by Marcia Marcushere deliver one knockout after another. In the oval portrait Nude with Mirror, 1965, a woman languorously appraises her own reflection. In Florentine Landscape, 1961, three ghostly, pale figures and a pumpkin patch appear like holograms beamed into an ancient garden. In Frieze: The Porch, 1964, three distinctly different pictures—a double portrait of the critic Jill Johnston and the painter Barbara Forst, a self-portrait of the artist in a billowing floral robe, and a picture of her as a child with her father—are all crammed together in a way that feels weirdly spacious.
“The California Years: 1967–1975” documents a momentous shift in Miriam Schapiro’s practice, from the wry, abstract feminist-futurism of her hard-edge paintings to the busy decadence of her mixed-media “femmages.” For her handsomely mod paintings in the former category, she used computer software to model and manipulate three-dimensional geometric structures. While the exhibition’s press release notes that these images are often “coded depictions of yonic forms,” we’re not talking about seashells and split melons here. In the pristinely painted Keyhole, 1971, a fiery red-orange and rose-colored mother ship approaches from a cloudless blue sky. The chic all-blue Horizontal Woman No. 2 from the same year slyly references a reclining nude with its blank virtual architecture. A kind of landscape, the painting depicts something resembling a compound of modernist bungalows built into a featureless hilltop.