The winding down of the spring gallery season means there aren’t a lot of shows closing this weekend, which all in all is a good thing. Some recommendations: Damian Stamer’s confrontations with landscape painting, Minimalism’s current legacy in Brooklyn, color photographs from the Great Depression, and Rembrandt at the Met.
Damian Stamer, “Southern Comfort”
Freight + Volume, 520 W 24th St
Through May 19
The sky is a recurring motif in “Southern Comfort,” whether in masterfully-rendered airy vistas or brushy patches of blue-hued paint. Yet it is always inaccessible, mediated by a barrier either architectural or painterly. If the sky symbolizes the total freedom of living in the present, then these two types of obstacles are what make such freedom impossible: the first, the burden of the past, and second, apprehension for the future. In combining representation and abstraction, Stamer brings the anxieties of the past and the future to bear on one another. He is a skilled practitioner of the gestural mark: the strength of the strokes with which he applies his pastel hues is what enables them to stand up to the solid black shapes with which they compete. Amongst all this paint, a wooden shack flickers in and out of the paintings, a stand-in for the artist himself. What emerges out this confrontation are remarkably original paintings in which the artist works through the influence of his forbearers—namely the Hudson River School and the Abstract Expressionists—in order to come out on the other side. Sometimes manic and sometimes serene, the works in the show convey the various emotional experiences involved in such an undertaking.
Given the historical contingency of Minimalism’s basic essentialism, it’s a difficult mode in which to produce art today without being repetitive, irrelevant, or both. Therefore, it’s not surprising that “Alter Minimal,” the inaugural exhibition at Parallel Art Space, is a mixed bag, with the artists behind the strongest works the same ones behind the weakest. The works that prevail do so admirably by transferring Minimalism’s original interest in the industrial and impersonal to a more relatable realm. Clinton King’s Forums, 2011, made of monochrome exhibition announcements in ArtForum from which all words have been excised, is a paring gesture that offers relief from a name- and text-driven art world. Yet as the colors and format of the piece recall the stone-tiled floors of galleries, the piece also hints at the necessary relationship between Minimal art and the commercial environment in which it is shown. The feminine perspective of Suzanne Stroebe’s shabby-chic Minimalism embraces the movement’s decorative tendencies. Sexy Pink, 2010, a set of irregularly cut paint samples affixed to a stack of white wooden blocks, gives form to color without making any macho claims to its transcendental effect on the viewer. These artists break open Minimalism’s formal limitations by reinterpreting the concept of reduction to address current tendencies in art.
Color Photographs from the New Deal (1939-1943)
Carriage Trade, 62 Walker Street
Through May 20
After seeing an exhibition of Depression-era Kodachromes at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo last fall, I was eager for another chance to see more examples from the WPA-commissioned Farm Security Administration. Dynamically colored and composed, the pictures on view at Carriage House break down traditional expectations of documentary photography, particularly of 1930’s America, by presenting a hopeful and inspirational view of the country in the face of economic despair. The photos are worth seeing in themselves, and in their contrast from the norm, they demonstrate how photographs shape the way we remember the history they depict. In addition, the exhibition provides a good opportunity to reflect, in the age of Instagram, on how the anticipated appearance of our pictures affects
what we choose to photograph in the first place.
Rembrandt at Work: The Great Self-Portrait from Kenwood House
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gallery 614
Through May 20
Several great shows at the Met will be coming down soon: the fantastic “Lyrical Visions: Paintings from North India” is open through May 28, and “The Steins Collect” is up through June 3. Even though there’s some time, I’ll be heading there this weekend to make sure to catch Rembrandt’s c. 1663-1665 Portrait of the Artist, on loan from the Kenwood House in London. The painting differs so markedly from the Met’s own late self-portrait from 1660 by showing the artist at work, allowing the viewer an uncommonly intimate look at the man who so adeptly translated the emotional reality of experience onto his canvases. Peter Schjeldahl calls seeing the painting “a life event,” so I’m convinced.
Critical Pick: Roberta Smith at the New York Times