He Is a Camera

Elliot Erwitt at the Edwynn Houk Gallery

Elliot Erwitt, still active at 78, has a knack for delivering theatrical spontaneity within sharp and inventive compositions. In one black and white image, a silhouetted man with a huge umbrella leaps high off the ground, his legs in an achingly wide, pointy split; at stage right, two lovers embrace, their own umbrellas crumpling in the wind as the Eiffel Tower rises in the gray distance, a tumescent exclamation point to this narrative of exuberant love. Compare this posed 1989 shot (a clear homage to Cartier-Bresson's Paris pedestrian leaping across a puddle) to Erwitt's iconic photo from the Cold War: Nixon's ski-slope nose thrusts almost as belligerently as the finger he's using to poke Nikita Kruschev's chest during the famous 1959 kitchen debate in Moscow. The high-stakes tension in this bout between two ideological heavyweights is captured through the taut tendons of the vice president's neck and the general secretary's impassive, heavy-lidded glare; a wary functionary leans in, eyeing Tricky Dick's mouth. This broad survey also includes a series of wedding pictures taken in such locales as Siberia, New York, and Israel (which run the emotional gamut from leering lasciviousness to glowing anticipation to nervous uncertainty), and portraits of dogs that make them equal characters in the human drama. Edwynn Houk Gallery, 745 Fifth Avenue. Through February 23.


Ian Davis
Workmen toil in a vast crevice, their headlamps casting cones of light into the brown gloom— a riff on the artifice of conveying deep space in illusionistic painting. Davis's cartoonish but smart canvases also include visions of Redcoats marching off to a snowy vanishing point and a dark thicket of industrial scaffolding supporting smokestacks that belch gray plumes into a pink-edged gloom. A striking scene of hundreds of business-suited men performing a circular ritual in a spotlit forest seems a mordant blend of Nuremberg rally and witches' coven. Leslie Tonkonow, 535 W 22nd, 212-255-8450. Through March 10.

Bratsk, Siberia, USSR, 1967
Elliot Erwitt
Bratsk, Siberia, USSR, 1967


Mark Grotjahn
Like Ad Reinhardt's somber, close-toned crosses, Grotjahn's thickly painted canvases (the warm scent of linseed oil wafts through the gallery) are limited to a palette of midnight blues and blacks, which are arrayed in vertical bars and wedge-shaped rays radiating from central points. The heavy brushwork snags light along its edges, and what at first seems mere technical trickery shifts into a subtle, kinetic drama of luminous arcs gliding across the dark grounds. There are unavoidable associations with Rothko's gloomy spiritualism and Newman's formal "zips," but the energy here is arrestingly sincere. Anton Kern, 532 W 20th, 212-367-9663. Through February 28.


Robert Foreman
By gluing thousands of thin segments of colored thread to panels, Foreman creates painting-like scrims of images and text. His astoundingly labor-intensive technique results in colorful phantasmagorias, such as the 48-inch-wide Chinatown (2006), an amalgam of figures and bright-hued calligraphy surrounded by a frame inset with cheap tchotchkes easily found on any Canal Street ramble. The rear gallery displays Foreman's preparatory sketches, including a large colored-pencil drawing juxtaposing myriad gods and saints, aptly titled Study for Vision. Francis M. Naumann, 22 E 80th, 212-472-6800. Through February 28.


'European Personal Journalism'
You've undoubtedly seen some of these photos before, but such compositions as Henri Cartier-Bresson's 1932 photograph Behind the Gare St. Lazare, of a man leaping over a huge puddlehis angled heel eternally suspended above his reflection, the triangular shape of his spread legs echoed in distant rooftops—retain the power of a medium fully hitting its stride. Brassai's pair of lovers sandwiched between two mirrors (also from the '30s) flashes an erotic charge, even though most of the couple's clothes have yet to be removed; Willy Ronis's nude woman at a sunlit washbasin is a poignant study of atmosphere and sculptural form, less sexy than classical. Alan Klotz, 511 W 25th, 212-741-4764. Through February 17.


Cindy Workman: 'Les Demoiselles'
These roughly four-foot-high digital prints superimpose, in layers of varying opacity, the desultory grind of old-school black-and white nudie shots with the pert vivaciousness of comic-book schoolgirls, creating textural contrasts between the gradated contours of soft-core porn and the colorfully coarse rosettes of enlarged benday dots. Large Woman 10 (2006) highlights the negative spaces under a blonde waif's arms, which form sharp chevrons pointing directly at the pendulous, mature breasts of the figure layered beneath her. The youngster's smiling face is angled downward, surveying her blue playground smock, which has dissolved into a see-through nightie that exposes coy adult hands at the intermingled figures' crotches. Cribbing her exhibition's title from Picasso's groundbreaking cubist painting of prostitutes, Workman offers us a graphic conundrum: Are these portraits of impatient Lolitas or world-weary broads pining for lost innocence? Lennon, Weinberg, 514 W 25th, 212-941-0012. Through March 3.

 
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