Hardy Plumbing
January 19, 2011

Famed Artist Has Local Alter-ego

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A lot of local folks probably don't realize that the Joe Zucker they know – he's an assistant basketball coach for the Bridgehampton Killer Bees – has an entirely different alter-ego. Similarly, folks in Tofte, Minnesota on the northern shore of Lake Superior, where Zucker goes every year, know him as a dedicated fisherman.

But the Joe Zucker the world knows is an artist of international renown as his two one-person exhibits at the Mary Boone Gallery "A Unified Theory at 541 West 24th Street" and "Box Paintings" at the 745 Fifth Avenue Boone Gallery aptly prove.

Zucker was a high school basketball star in Chicago, where he grew up, and originally went to Miami (OH) University to play hoop. But his love of art in the end proved to be more powerful. He grew up accompanying his mother to the Art Institute of Chicago. Here he intermittently attended children's art classes starting at age 5 in 1947 until 1959. He went on to earn a BFA and MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Zucker then taught at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, but the burgeoning art movement in downtown Manhattan soon beckoned. After having been offered a teaching position at the School of Visual Arts he moved to New York in 1968 and became a neighbor, friend, and contemporary of Chuck Close.

There he met Klaus Kertess, who offered him a show at Bykert Gallery in 1969 followed in 1975 by an exhibit of a group of the now legendary "Cotton Ball Paintings." This show had been reproduced in its entirety last year at Mary Boone Gallery. The paintings came from private and public collections as far as Australia.

Zucker moved to East Hampton in 1982 where he built a house and a studio. He felt the need to engage in his work more deeply and uninterrupted as well as enjoy his passion for fishing.

In 1972 Zucker had embarked on a monumental work called 100-Foot Long Piece. It was created by making eight feet high and one-foot wide section in a different style daily for 100 days. The result was a virtual lexicon of styles. When it was shown at the Parrish Art Museum in 1992 it had been 20 years since it was last exhibited in New York.

"I added two new sections, one 4-by-8 piece of sheetrock. It is a portrait, painted in the gypsum, of Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, the two anarchists," Zucker related. "I even had their eyes etched on the walls during the duration of the show; the other section is an 8-by-12 foot painting made with pegboard. In any case, like most of what I've made there's always continuity in terms of the use of materials."

The eight new paintings in "Unified Theory," Zucker said, "came right out of the use of the sheetrock in the added first section of the 100-Foot-Long-Piece. At the same time, they relate to my early interest in mosaics. You can say that they're my own synthesis of mosaic and fresco paintings combined."

This latest series of paintings, as always, continue an evolution that is unpredictable, but as with all his work each piece in the current exhibition shares a common thread.

The Uptown gallery features a group of "Box Paintings" from 2002-2005. Here, Zucker constructed a shallow wooden box in which the arrangement of compartments configures an angular depiction of a sailing ship, a house, or volcano. Within each compartment, a single bright color of enamel has been poured and oscillated so that the paint laps up along the interior edges.

A fitted lid for each box - its interior slicked with a monochrome shade of sky – completes a diptych in which ersatz Minimalism counters complex representation and process. This engagement of image and support, medium and subject, has been a recurring theme in Zucker's diverse body of works since the late 1960s.

Sailboats, houses, and volcanoes re-appear in the series of new paintings on view in Chelsea. The images coalesce on four-foot squares of gypsum that have been scored into a quarter-inch grid. The top layer of each module has been flaked off, forming an irregular topography of the porous surface. As in the Box paintings, each module acts as a receptacle for paint - in this case watercolor that is absorbed into the very body of the painting. These building blocks of images are, by the paintings' titles, likened to particle physics and the mechanics of the universe: "Like many pictures of mine in the last 20 years, they have to do with using water's relationship to paint, how to make use of its viscosity."

Zucker could have gone on – after all, his works are included in some of the prestigious collections in the world, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney in Manhattan. But he had another appointment: he was due at the Bridgehampton gym, dubbed the Beehive, for practice.

Zucker's Boone Gallery shows run until February 5.

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