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Thursday, April 16, 2009

New York City gallery crawl, Part II

(continued from previous posting - to start at the beginning, just scroll down to Part I. )
That stroll to Yossi Milo was interrupted by a side trip - strong work beckoned from the windows of Robert Steele Gallery, where a show called unbound that features the paintings and monoprints of Betsy Cain graced the front room (example at right). Cain has a great sense of color and calligraphic line. Her big, bold works were like a bracing wind that pushed our weary souls forward. It's an impressive show and it runs through May 9.

Also at Robert Steele through May 9 is a smaller showcase exhibition of wall-mounted wooden constructions and silkscreen prints by Joe Segal titled Counting Lines. The work is minimalist, symmetrical and highly textural. I really liked the surface qualities of the wooden pieces and the way the silkscreens translated that sensibility into a paper medium. Two thumbs up for Steele and these two artists.

Our next and final stop was at a venerable Chelsea building that houses 29 galleries at 547 W. 27th Street, including that of Ron's friend Michael Foley, who greeted us warmly and enthusiastically. It's a pretty amazing experience to wander what is essentially a vertical flea market of contemporary art, where all floors of the building are devoted to visual expression, some divided up into as many as eight or 10 individual spaces, each with its own purpose and personality.

This is the Chelsea of legend - the grass-roots movement that opened up this off-the-beaten-track neighborhood decades ago and made it safe for art dealers and collectors from all over the world to invade is very much alive and well in the nooks and crannies of 547 W. 27th. Though Foley Gallery was between shows, we wandered freely nearby, finding that every little gallery showed something different and made us feel genuinely welcome.

One such is Tria, a gallery with three co-owners that has a solo show by Frank Olt through May 9. Olt combines unexpected media, such as fired ceramic and linen, to make lovely, subtle abstract paintings (example at left). It was refreshing to see his show of modest-scale work (many as small as a foot square) when so much art lately has been too big and loud.

Another highlight came in the form of a gallery with several dispersed, oddly shaped spaces on the same floor. Called AC [Institute Direct Chapel], its "mission is to advance the understanding of art through investigation, research and education."

The positive energy was just overflowing at AC (another form of excess, maybe , but a good one). I wish I could send you to see the installations there by Jeff Becker, Ann Torke, and Bryan Whitney, but they ended on April 11. What was wonderful about them was that they addressed this whole business of excess - Becker by creating a miniature city out of discarded plastic lids and other junk; Torke by collecting and encapsulating detritus in graceful vaselike forms; and Whitney by channeling his inner Buddha to attempt to come to grips with the too many photographs he takes and the spiritual concept of Myriad: The Ten Thousand Things. I could relate!

Finally, though not big or loud or excessive, another venue in the building occupies the whole fourth floor, and that is Aperture Gallery, where fine photography has a gracious home, and fine photography books have a champion publisher.

The current show at Aperture, through May 7, is a very powerful and difficult body of work - difficult because the subject matter is so very sad. Titled Intended Consequences: Rwandan Children Born of Rape, the large exhibition features color portraits and interviews by Jonathan Torgovnik (example above) of Rwandan women and their children born as a result of the atrocities of the 1990s.

Sensitive and respectful, the portraits show these women's pain while preserving their dignity, but they do push the boundaries between art and activism / art and journalism toward a place that can leave you uncomfortable. I found the experience somewhat too emotionally draining, and was thankful for the comfort of Aperture's firm leather couches to regain my composure.

It was one heck of a day of looking around at New York art. If you go - wear sensible shoes.

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