Sunday, September 29, 2013

Various Small Booktures & A Few Drawings James Prez; at the Mulberry Street Branch of the New York Public Library.

Ostensibly an exhibit, these little fairy tale objects manifest as an alternative, Disney-esque universe in a Grimm influenced art installation.
The library space perfectly suits what I imagine was the artist’s vision of a path through a forest of literature, paved with books serving as pedestals, for the artist’s odd collection of collectables. Like the genie from the bottle, these 3D sculptural assemblages could be conjured from the pages of their tomes.
Tucked among library shelves and browsing patrons, Prez’s trail of painted ceramic tidbits salvaged from flea markets and yard sales, draw you into their offbeat, child-like context of wonderland fantasy.
Their up-close appeal and goofy detailing provide a sense of peering into disjointed scenes that could be part of some kooky stage play frozen in the moment. They are intriguing vignettes from snippets of kitsch that exist to contemplatively amuse, while stimulating a slightly perverse notion of peeping into the recesses of the repressed Victorian psyche.
Collectively the pieces seem invested in a kind of joyful, yet earnest innocence, but perhaps there’s is a sly bit of irony at work here; who needs a white walls and fussy technique to achieve ingenious results?

Katherine Bradford: Small Ships, at Steven Harvey Fine Art

Bradford’s art soothes the painter’s soul; the lusciously caked on layers of thickly lustrous pigment should satisfy any painterly palate.
At first glance her images might be considered crudely rendered, but their rough-hewn surfaces then morph into a kind of elastically concrete substance.  Hidden beneath crusty oceans of vivid chromatic intensity, lurks a sensitively conceived notion of nuance that inform those voluptuous swathes of luminous seascape. 

The artist’s obsession with ocean liners emphasizes a funky figure ground relationship, similar to the way Guston subverted cartoon references by jumbling up conventional picture plane semiotics. The artist’s playful instincts infuse her work in (or shall I say on) “Titanic on the Piano”. The impending disaster comes off as blackly comical; the toy ship sails blithely on towards an ice cube of an iceberg.


Bradford employs an effective conceit by stretching out the vertical mass of her painted ships. This distortion frees up an energetic thrust that invigorates compositional integrity, while shifting perception away from the clich├ęd reference of  “boat pictures”.  

However the work is freighted with a diffusely sentimental yearning; they can evoke blurry postcards from bygone eras, but remain contemporary without becoming saccharine. “Brooklyn (Arriving in the Harbor)” celebrates a cruise with corny looking text, but conveys a festive sincerity we can believe in. 

Ron Gorchov, Leslie Heller Workspace

I first met Ron Gorchov and saw his work at Magoo’s bar in Tribeca during the mid 1970’s.
Tommy, the one-eyed, quasi Mafioso proprietor had been busted during the Knapp Commission for providing hookers to corrupt judges and cops on the premises.  Apparently as part of Tommy’s community service Magoo’s was then reinvented as a bar and grill catering to the recent influx of artist types. Tommy created a loyal artist following by instituting his famous burger & beer collection. If you were one of the lucky patrons, Tommy would take a piece of art in exchange for a tab of equivalent value. That coupled with a very popular pool table made Magoos the place to see and be seen in below Canal St.
Gorchov’s painting was prominently featured above the pool table lounge, where as I recall he would occasionally hold court, but not play pool.
Fast-forward to the LHW exhibit, where Ron Gorchov has mounted a quiet exhibit of small works on hand made paper that maintains a stately presence.
The artist’s work at Magoos was typical of his earlier “potato chip” shaped stretchers that warped their way into prominence. There is still a hint of the signature 3D bow to some of the art, but mostly they have relaxed into flatter configurations.

Gift From The Nixians V

A Gorchov trademark that does seem to have remained virtually unchanged are the familiar vertical slashes. This move animated what might otherwise result in a clunky looking attempt at mask making. But then Gorchov has never pretended to be a virtuoso; his wobbly, concave structures carve curvilinear boundaries in space, while his mark making espouses the virtues of loosely informal technique. 

Vintage Gorchov, (not in the Heller exhbit)

What does seem to have evolved in the recent works on paper is a textural integrity. The thick, wafer-like ground provides stability for inherently diffuse, lightly pigmented forms floating in their constrained, yet unframed ether.
I’m not sure I buy into the artist’s grand scenario of Greek mythology in any literal sense, but from an historical perspective these pieces could be seen as ethereal symbols relating to shields or coats of arms. The gallery installation also works well with the generous use of wall space, giving these plaintive, but intimate works a chance for their soft sound to be seen.