There won’t be a quiz, but you can still cram for New York School 101 all over town this fall.
Stephen Pace (b. 1918) is part of a generation of American painters that, as the critic Thomas Hess noted in 1955, followed “the applause and catcalls which have greeted Abstract-Expressionism since 1940.” A bit younger than his friends Pollock, de Kooning, and Kline, Pace shared their European influences—Picasso, Braque, surrealism, and such refugee mentors as Hans Hofmann and Arshile Gorky. It’s instructive to watch Pace, between 1952 and ’62, searching for his own style in the shadow of his New York School elders’ towering achievements. At the Katharina Rich Perlow gallery, a beautiful watercolor from 1954 features drippy black bands of roiling luminosity, while purple and ochre islands keep the work firmly in nature’s realm. Four years later, the bright-orange, calligraphic squiggles underlying Untitled 58-26 form fireworks that torque a writhing abstract space. (41 E 57th, 212-644-7171, through November 3.) Two floors below (at David Findlay Jr., 212-486-7660), you’ll find Byron Browne (1907–1961), who shared many of the same colleagues but never made as full a break from European influences. Instead, this brilliant designer pushed and pulled at surrealism and cubism to create vibrant figures in utterly charming netherworlds. Study for Sculpture (1936) is a deft, graphic re-imagining of Miró’s bulbous figures. Warrior Woman II and III, both watercolors from 1942, star a cubistic Amazon flattened by black outlines; splattery blots hint at the nascent abstraction of advanced American art. In 1959’sMemories of Malaga, Browne lets go, with three ranged figures in gray, white, and black that float across an ochre ground like one of Motherwell’s elegies to the Spanish Republic. A short stroll will bring you to the gossamer acrylic stylings of
Helen Frankenthaler, born in 1928 (Ameringer & Yohe, 20 W 57th, 212-445-0051, through November 17). At roughly 9 x 21 feet, The Sound of the Bassoon (1974) evokes broad desert canyons; a brackish green rectangle—squeegee’d front and center with Hofmannesque brusqueness—provides the mournful note of the title. Water droplets splattered through a lighter-green wash create textured weather, a theme also present in the enveloping chromatic mist of 1966’s Central Park. Next up: three shows that reveal a heavyweight of the action painters’ arena as he leaves his influences on the mat. Opening October 30 (Allan Stone, 113 E 90th, 212-987-4997, through December 22), an exhibit of drawings by
Willem de Kooning (1904–1997) runs the gamut from a 1923 Munch-like kiss through the classical modeling of his 1941 pencil Portrait of Elaine, right up to his ’70s charcoal studies of wavery women digging clams. Two current shows of his late paintings go even farther, portraying a leviathan in winter. At L&M Arts (45 E 78th, 212-861-0020, through November 14), works range from 1981 to ’86, the earlier canvases still displaying de Kooning’s protean physical verve; by 1986’s Untitled XV, the painter is incapable of the grand, sweeping brushstrokes that long gave life to his abstract figures. Still, these labored curves and arcs fascinate, reaching back to de Kooning’s early, Gorky-inspired biomorphic shapes, clunky visitations from the days when he was creating a new form of painting. Although there is much debate as to how much help his assistants provided the artist in his last working years, when Alzheimer’s was blunt-ing his brain, there’s no denying the heartbreaking power of some of these large canvases. At Gagosian (522 W 21st, 212-741-1717, through October 27), do not miss 1980’s Untitled II—here is an invented nature, orange patches surrounded by white figures delineated by purple contours, everything crashing together to form livid brown welts. Or No Title (1984), in which de Kooning laid down white fields separated by an inch or so of orange ground, that gap a stand-in for the lithe contours of his youth. Even so, his still-strong 80-year-old body can be felt in a charcoal stroke through the wet, white paint, like a bullfighter’s flowing veronica.
‘Art and Psyche: The Freudian Legacy’
Get your inner Woody Allen on at this engaging group show on the theme of psychoanalysis. Start with Freud’s own drawing of the nerves that connect the eardrum to the brain (he started his practice by probing the causes of aphasia). Nearby is a small painting by Eric Fischl (2000), in which a white easy chair has been slashed with meat-y wet-into-wet strokes of red, a passage with more sexual charge than the bland man and woman pictured elsewhere in this bedroom scene. A 1938 view of Freud’s writing desk, taken shortly before he fled the Nazi overlords of Vienna for London, was shot as if from the master’s own chair—it takes in a row of Egyptian statues lined along the desk edge, ancient gods who watched over the composition of such books as The Interpretation of Dreams. A small 1935 etching by Marcel Jean (who later edited The Autobiography of Surrealism) offers a gloomy dream-scape of long shadows, a reclining nude, and a jacket that seems made from flayed flesh, which hangs upon an enormous key. Freud unlocked the unconscious more than a hundred years ago, and artists have been gleefully rummaging through the mind’s attic ever since. CDS, 76 E 79th, 212-772-9555. Through November 24.
Just down the block, you can wander smack into the dreamy spaces that Laurie Simmons has conjured by placing Japanese-designed “Teenette” dolls (tall American girls wearing tight skirts and cable-knit sweaters) in front of pro-jected ideal-home interiors. Taking her cue from a 1940s interior-design book that warns “Misused, color will mock all your efforts,” Simmons matched the hues of the solidly colored plastic dolls, manufac-tured in Japan during the early ’60s, with ac-cents from the photographs; hence, the dusky-green girl standing in that ’70s-ish kitchen with the avocado-tinted fixtures. All of the images date from 1983, but they feel like Technicolor studio films, the rear-projected sets utterly phony even as the carefully placed dolls and integrated lighting coalesce into definite, if unknowable, narratives. Skarstedt, 20 E 79th, 212-737-2060. Through October 27.