November 15, 2006
68 Newtown Lane, East Hampton
"Long Island Abstraction: 1950s to the Present."
Continuing its impressive move into modernism and contemporary, the well established East 58th Street Spanierman Gallery, long associated with late 19th, early 20th-century American oils and watercolors, has been increasingly dedicating its sunny-white, East End venue to abstract art, beginning with post-war artists who established studios in the Hamptons, and also embracing present-day painters and sculptors who have made this area their year-round home.
The breadth of the exhibits at Spanierman East, which have featured famous names and some still relatively unknown, such as Gary Komarin, represented here with a playful mixed media, Suite of Blue Sea, Amagansett, has been noticeable for both diversity and surprise.
If, over the last couple of years, there has seemed at times to be an embarrassment of riches — too many artists in one show, an almost overwhelming display that might include characteristic work as well as new directions — Spanierman shrewdly alternated the group-show blockbusters with solo exhibitions that allowed for greater appreciation of individual talent, particularly of under-valued women artists, such as the remarkable Charlotte Park and Betty Parsons.
Now, under the curatorial guidance of Gavin Spanierman, who is based in the city, Spanierman Gallery, LLC in East Hampton has mounted an instructive exhibition of 20 Long Island abstractionists, many seen here with multiple pieces, including, for example, two colorful jigsaw-design acrylics on paper by Ibram Lassaw whose spidery black and white sections bear striking stylistic resemblance to the tactile open grillwork of his elegant sculpture, Sidereality, that sits a few feet away.
Indeed, an admirable feature of "Long Island Abstraction: 1950s to the Present" is the separation of multiple works, thus teasing the viewer into identifying each artist's distinctive style and technique, regardless of date or medium. Is it possible not to recognize Frank Wimberley's bold, thickly painted square acrylic Azure Suggestion, after seeing his dramatic black and ochre Dark-Haired Woman, hanging in the gallery's entrance room?
Also commendable is the gallery's decision to display along with some heavy hitters — a yellow and red swathed Untitled Wilhelm de Kooning; a large, rainbow-colored, fan-flecked three-dimensional looking oil by Jimmy Ernst, Dusklight; Dan Rizzie's delightful signature plant-coil-cum-birds-and-script-circles mixed media Barcelona Neck; and Alfonso Osorio's knockout joyous thick-globbed Slow Dance and Staccato — younger artists new to the East End scene.
Also included in this exhibit are pieces not widely seen before, such as Mike Solomon's spectacular delicate pale rose and beige #4,2005, a large acrylic on canvas covered by bleached beeswax on muslin that subtly conveys a sense of misty sunlight and tree branches caught in faint shadow behind a scrim.
Among the more startling works in the show Neil Williams' curved trapezoidal Untitled commands attention with its energetic, brilliantly colored, compressed applications of thick pigment that reveals on close inspection under-areas of thinly painted canvas.
To judge by other works in the show — such as John Alexander's dazzlingly busy 1982 Untitled, his deliciously dramatic, spooky-fun Dancing Skeletons, and Perry Burns' Technicolor Noise, it could be said that mid-century free-form and limited-color geometric abstracts have been succeeded to some degree by larger canvases full of bolder color and more intricate patterning of brush strokes and scraped indentations.
Dan Christensen delivers one of the more subtly ironic surprises in the exhibit with his huge Blue Burst acrylic, inviting viewers to discern blue beneath and within cascading flows of creamy white. Surprise of a different sort attends an unintentional but apt grouping of paintings that suggest biology — cells, slides, paramecia, as in the beautifully composed yellow-egg sun shapes of Richmond Burton. Although space does not permit extensive notice of other artists in the show, they should be noted — James Brooks, Theodore Stamos, Esteban Vincente, Della Weinberger.
Ernst, Park and Parsons, incidentally, get more representation in Spanierman's downstairs gallery where "Works on Paper: Abstraction at Mid-Century" is running concurrently with the upstairs exhibit of works on canvas.
Among the downstairs artists showing in gouache, watercolor, ink, charcoal and oil on paper are many influential mid-century painters and sculptors who had important connections with artist alliance groups and organizations in the city at a critical point in the development of abstract art. These include Byron Browne, Alexander Corazzo, James Daughterty, John Graham, Gertrude Greene, Blanche Lazzell, Seymour Lipton, George L.K. Morris, Rolph Scarlett (check that Miró-like monotype) and Louis Schanker.
"Long Island Abstraction" runs through December 4. Note: Elaine De Kooning's monumental 1985 Cave 54, Sand Wall will join the exhibition next week.