Although the CliffsNotes version of postwar American art trumpets the antagonism between macho abstract expressionists and later generations of artists, there were actually a number of affinities across the stylistic divides. James Brooks (1906–92) was a seminal ab-ex painter whose carefully considered, collage-like placement of forms led to more contemplative compositions than the visual Sturm und Drang expounded by his colleagues Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. The drippy grid in a 1974 acrylic drawing by Brooks segues from dense cobalt to pale blue to cool white against buff paper, a marriage of the nebulous and the evocative that resonates with the work of Terry Winters and Amy Sillman today.
But painters naturally influence one another; more intriguingly, this exhibit reveals how much the minimalist master Dan Flavin (1933–96) admired Brooks’s graceful nuances, as in the subtle textural shifts of the burgundy polyp dangling amid a black-and-white expanse in a 1974 lithoprint. Just as rock ‘n’ roll king Elvis Presley highly respected the Rat Pack crooner Dean Martin, Flavin found kinship between his own radiant fluorescent light sculptures and his elder’s virtuoso blend of emphatic form and supple color.
In 1984, Flavin curated a show of Brooks’s drawings, and some of those works are on view here, such as Lido I (ink and gouache on paper, 1965), a lush black field that fragments as the brushstrokes ascend the page. While Brooks and Flavin were separated by age and tectonic upheavals in the formal dynamics of American art, their friendship was based on the artist’s most elemental task: transmuting base material into transcendent form. Two of Flavin’s sculptures—part of a series dedicated to Brooks and his wife, the painter Charlotte Park Brooks—dominate the gallery’s entrance, their plumes of color illuminating one path through the roiling history of American art’s postwar triumphs.
Ray Parker: ‘Simple Paintings From the 1960s’
With his love of jazz and admiration for Matisse, Ray Parker (1922–90) embodied the second generation of abstract expressionists. He worked in the shadow cast by giants such as Pollock and de Kooning, and once said of his own era, “Painters were dedicated to the idea that they could surprise themselves.” Parker’s large, scruffy ovals and rectangles, painted in earthy, richly modulated colors, seem to float across these otherwise blank, roughly six-foot-square canvases. His insight was to make shapes so big in relation to their compositions that they can be read as both figure and ground, their close proximities presaging a touch of the absurd intimacy found in Philip Guston’s cartoon paintings. Surprising stuff indeed from half a century ago. Washburn, 20 West 57th Street, 212-397-6780, washburngallery.com. Through January 28.
Part of a group show of artists from Latin America, Marcelle’s five-minute video Cruzada (2010) focuses on a red-dirt crossroads shot from on high. Tilted to form an “X” in the frame, the axes soon host foursomes of marching musicians segregated by yellow, blue, red, and green uniforms. As they stride toward one another, one might think of the spatial separation and clashing tonalities of a Charles Ives symphony, but then, as if in a Busby Berkeley movie, they deftly rotate and merge into a smoothly syncopated column, having apparently found harmony rather than the devil. Galerie Lelong, 528 West 26th Street, 212-315-0470, galerielelong.com. Through January 28.
Last year, Dawn Clements sent some of her sumi-ink drawings (a few based on movie stills) to sculptor Mark Leuthold and then made new drawings of the resulting sculptures, the forms becoming ever more abstract in the process. She also created scores of 8×10 drawings depicting various parts of a worktable covered with Leuthold’s small sculptures and then taped the sheets together into a 25-foot-wide mural, which hangs in the gallery. This merry-go-round of image-object-image has been conceptually amplified by placing the actual table and Leuthold’s sculptures directly below the sprawling depiction of same. In other drawings, derived from freeze-framing Turner Classic movies, Clements builds up noir imagery through truly obsessive ballpoint-pen striations, setting off a vivid oscillation between graphic rendering and lovely abstraction. Pierogi, 177 North 9th Street, Brooklyn, 718-599-2144, pierogi2000.com. Through February 12.