Despite their richly observed detail and careful compositions, Hope Gangloff’s portraits display a kind of effortlessness. Like a writer who crafts a great story without a dazzling style, Gangloff paints a quiet quasi-realism, capturing the moods of her subjects—friends, typically—by emphasizing line, gesture, and facial expression. If that sounds like drawing, it largely is: The artist earned her stripes as an illustrator. Past efforts, in fact, have verged on the fashion layout (glamorous nudity), but the large, bright works in this exhibit demonstrate her skills in making ordinary moments vividly felt.
In Land’s End (Vic Masnyj), Gangloff brings a shaggy, pensive young man into sharp relief by flattening the picture plane and setting off his dark form against the pale green of an Adirondacks chair. His disproportionately large hands direct your focus to what they hold—a beer and cigarette—heightening the sense of his malaise. The well-planned effects conjure an immediacy and frankness reminiscent of Alice Neel. Gangloff even shows a preference, as Neel did, for off-color skin tones. The ghostly blue of the bather’s body in the magnificent Freelancer (Mikey Hernandez) might suggest, in another context, the pallor of death. But the wan hues of naked limbs serve to highlight their elegant contours, all belonging to a handsome guy at leisure in a tub—very much a picture of life and its small pleasures.
Arturo Herrera: ‘Les Noces’
If you aren’t familiar with Stravinsky’s wonderful but rarely performed ballet suite, Les Noces, you won’t find a better introduction to the work than Arturo Herrera’s installation of the same title. Like Picasso, Matisse, Chirico, and others before him, Herrera has fashioned a visual accompaniment for the piercing songs and driving, irregular rhythms, intended to evoke a Russian peasant wedding. As you listen, two screens at either end of a darkened room flash random sequences of extracts from Herrera’s black-and-white abstractions: snaking lines, organic shapes, geometric fragments, and the occasional cartoon character. The barrage of spare, inscrutable symbols perfectly complements the mysterious—and often disorienting—music, unusually scored for two pianos, percussion, and a mixed chorus.
In two adjoining rooms, there’s a sampler of Herrera’s other monochrome efforts: maze-like drawings, wall-relief glyphs that suggest a private alphabet, and a beguiling work (rendered in graphite) of black ribbons and outlined deer legs. It’s all like a subdued prelude to the artist’s concurrent show at Sikkema Jenkins, where collages of Pollock-like intensity reveal a wilder, but no less intelligent, vision. Americas Society, 680 Park Ave, americas-society.org, 212-249-8950. Through April 30
Helen Frankenthaler: ‘East and Beyond’
In the 1950s, while those familiar Ab-Ex muscle men were brashly shouting on their canvases, a young Helen Frankenthaler emerged on the scene with Mountains and Sea, an exquisite, introspective abstraction in oil that appeared to borrow its gentle forms from Chinese landscapes. Throughout her long career (she is now 82), the artist has often found inspiration in nature, approaching it with a meditative Eastern sensibility—influences that set the theme for an exhibit here that is simply breathtaking.
The delicacy of Frankenthaler’s work comes, in part, from her use of a thinned-out medium (acrylic, in this collection), which saturates the canvas or paper, softly spreading like watercolor. On top of those tonal gradations—often suggesting earth, sky, or water—she adds dimension with little mounds of thicker paint. In Brother Angel, diffuse dots and calligraphic marks of red, yellow, and blue lie scattered across a pale brown swath, like flowers sprouting in a fallow field. Elsewhere, the oblong aquamarine shape of Green and Beyond, studded with tiny islands, pushes ever so tentatively into its muddy surroundings—a lake as viewed from a satellite.
If the paintings invite contemplation, then the woodcuts induce swooning. Frankenthaler practically reinvents the form, using a complex series of inks and blocks to lay out prints you’d swear she painted. The wood grain’s lighter streaks add a subtle sense of motion to those trademark stains of rich color, making lush dreamscapes. Stare long enough at the deep, flowing red of Japanese Maple or Freefall’s blue abyss, and you may feel as if you’ve entered another world. Knoedler and Company, 19 E 70th, 212-794-0550, knoedlergallery.com. Through March 11