Art January 2015
On “Claire Seidl and Kim Uchiyama: Plain Sight, Selected Paintings, Prints and Photographs” at Fox Gallery NYC, Eleventh Street Arts at Grand Central Atelier, “Tom Goldenberg: Landscapes” at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York, and “Todd Gordon, Tom Goldenberg” at George Billis Gallery.
Fox Gallery NYC installation view with work by Claire Seidl and Kim Uchiyama
An apartment gallery is just what it sounds like: a gallery in an apartment. The concept barely needs explaining, but the obviousness of it only became apparent to me in recent years. Of course, the traditional commercial gallery as we know it—that storefront of art, now almost always stripped down to a white cube—is, in fact, a modern creation. Art has been decorating the places where we live since before the first cave drawings at Lascaux. No doubt someone sometime in the Pleistocene was the first to trade a zigzag clam carving kept beside a stone pillow for entrails from the mammoth hunt. Hence the first apartment gallery sale was made.
But for whatever reason, from perhaps 15,000 years ago until sometime in 2008, apartment galleries have been far too exotic for most of us to pay them much mind. It could be that some prehistoric prohibition exists in mixing commercial transactions with a place of domicile; the art on the walls where you live should reside on the walls where you live and shouldn’t be up for sale. Most municipalities indeed have some regulations against operating a commercial space from home, and presumably this includes an art gallery. I wouldn’t want Gagosian West run out of the apartment across the hall from where I live, either. Yet there have been many famous and wonderful apartment galleries that worked out just fine for everyone. In January 2012, I wrote about the “ ’temporary Museum of Painting (and Drawing)” that the painter Cathy Nan Quinlan ran out of her loft in Williamsburg. These have largely been alternatives to the mainstream; out-there spaces not for everyone (although, in fact, they could be far more inviting than chilly white-box storefronts).
This all changed with the declining fortunes of the art world after 2008. As the economics of all but the largest commercial galleries suffered setbacks, the nimble apartment gallery, often artist-driven, often in unusual locations, took on a new leading role. It might be added that social media, the flattening of information, Google Maps, and a new appreciation for the “sharing economy” all played a role in these developments. Apartment galleries in Bushwick such as Norte Maar and Centotto began rigorous and regular exhibition programs in the wall spaces next to the kitchen and above the bed. But more importantly these changes in venue brought with them a sense of liberation. With gallery costs presumably now covered through other means—the best of them are living spaces first and exhibition spaces second—the lights stay on whether anything sells or not. So apartment gallerists (if we can call them that) have the freedom to show what they want, not what they need to sell.
Another discovery of apartment gallery-going is how interesting it can be to see art in a domestic setting. You can just about put anything in a white-box gallery and it will seem like art as it takes on the artificial aura of the venerated space around it. In a home, art must rise to the occasion. The art that passes this test looks even bigger and better than on a whitebox gallery wall. This is incredibly helpful, of course, in deciding if this is art you want to live with yourself. Apartment galleries also give us a sense for the seller’s own taste, ideas for our own home, and a more direct connection (too direct, for some people) with the creative community we might be buying into.
These thoughts went through my head as I visited Fox Gallery NYC, an apartment gallery run by Annette Fox since 2009. Located in her apartment at 101st Street and West End Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and open by appointment, Fox Gallery delights from the street. Just look up at the intricate and now forlorn Art Nouveau façade of one of George & Edward Blum’s signature apartment buildings from a century ago. The faded Gilded Age grandeur continues through the apartments inside, where a hundred years of landlord paint has built up over the picture moldings and French doors.
Watercolors by Kim Uchiyama, Fox Gallery NYC
In Fox’s apartment, this frosty white craquelure only adds to the texture of the space and resonates with the bold abstract paintings now on view by Claire Seidl and Kim Uchiyama.1 Both painters create an enigmatic sense of color, layer, and light—Uchiyama through horizontal bands; Seidl in a scumble of scrapes and lines. As natural light fills much of this classical living space, their work breathes and converses like exotic figures lounging in the living room or sitting with you at the dining room table. The Swing of Things, an aqueous square canvas by Seidl at the end of the entry hallway, invites a deep dive in. A set of matching watercolors by Uchiyama finds her horizontal bands bending and resting against one another and connecting through the panels in the series. Fox effortlessly folds her own excellent collection in this mix while also showing the range of each of these artists’ output: in the hallway, print editions by Uchiyama; in the bedroom, haunting long-exposure black-and-white photographs by Seidl of cabin dinners and lake swimming. This art settles us into a special place, like this gallery, where you just want to linger.
Jacob Collins in his new Grand Central Atelier
When most artists want to learn to paint, they enroll in school. When he couldn’t find a school to teach him, Jacob Collins created his own. For over twenty years, a scion of intellectual New York—he is related to Meyer Schapiro (1904–1996), the Columbia professor and one of America’s most formidable art historians—Collins has developed his own teachers, peer group, and disciples as he seeks to revive the teachings of the Beaux Arts and unlock the secrets of the Old Masters. From Water Street in Brooklyn to his home studio on the Upper East Side to a floor in the General Society and Tradesmen Building just west of Grand Central Terminal, the School of Collins has grown into a movement.
Installation view of GCA's Eleventh Street Arts; landscapes by Jacob Collins
This fall, Collins opened his newest and biggest campus in a converted warehouse in Long Island City, a block from the MOMA satellite PS1, on 11th Street and 46th Avenue. At 12,500 square feet, four times larger than his previous location, Collins’s Grand Central Atelier, as it’s now called, is an art school, an art incubator, and an artist clubhouse for fifty or more painters who have come out of Collins’s intense multi-year program and the hundreds of students who now flock to their classes.
Devin Cecil-Wishing's cast drawing of Saint Jerome and painting of a playing card and egg at Eleventh Street Arts, GCA.
In the front rooms of the new school is a gallery for their work called Eleventh Street Arts.2 Through January, open with regular hours on weekends, Collins has mounted an “Inaugural Group Show” for the new space. The venue is less than abundantly marked—the letters “GCA” are unremarkably stenciled on the front door—but the unassuming exterior makes what’s inside seem all the more remarkable. The hundred-odd works here include some of Collins’s own landscapes and demonstrate the intense skills he has promulgated. Many of the names will be familiar to those who have followed Collins through the years, as his best students have gone on to become teachers themselves. This is especially true of Joshua LaRock, a young apprentice when I first met him some years ago who has gone on to paint portraits that could be straight out of the Northern Renaissance. Edward Minoff and Tony Curanaj, former graffiti artists who became some of Collins’s earliest students, now paint singular seascapes and trompe-l’oeil miniatures. Another trompe-l’oeil artist on display is Devin Cecil-Wishing, who displays what might be the finest technique of the whole ensemble in a cast drawing of Saint Jerome that seems to float in space and a painting of a playing card and egg seemingly perched in a shadow box. Anthony Baus was new to me; he creates exquisite drawings of architecture. I also liked Sam Worley’s Study in Yellow (2011) and Patricia Watwood’s Fallen Angel (2012) for bringing their own candor in mixing old and new—Worley with a still life of a yellow soap bottle next to ancient glass, and Watwood with a modern angel smoked out of a blackened urban sky. Like this new school in the heart of industrial Queens, these works of timeless technique fully inhabit the present day.
Sam Worley, Study in Yellow (2011), Eleventh Street Arts, GCA.
For all we can see on the walls of our museums, there’s much more that rarely makes it onto public view, mainly staying in the storage of permanent collections. This can especially be the case for works on paper. New York has a vast archive of historical material, but most never makes it out of the flat files. It’s true that intimate works on paper don’t lend themselves to the light and space requirements of modern public viewing. Yet what few of us realize (until recently, myself included) is that much of this work, even at our most esteemed museums, can be viewed by appointment in their drawing libraries.
For over a decade the artist Tom Goldenberg has led a peripatetic class called “Drawing on Collections” that has organized small groups to gather and discuss these works behind closed doors. Visiting the drawing library of a different museum or private collection each week, magnifying glass in hand, he and his students call up, pore over, and talk through the lines and marks. As someone who has tagged along for a handful of these workshops, I can report that seeing such works laid out on a table, without the separation of glass, just a few inches from your eye, conveys a unique appreciation of the artist’s touch and left me with an uncanny impression of what I’d been shown.
Tom Goldenberg, Digital Trees, "Tom Goldengerg: Landscapes" at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York.
Back in his studio, Goldenberg has worked through similar impressions in his own landscapes. A display of his drawings is now on view in “Tom Goldenberg: Landscapes” in the Exhibition Hallway of The Graduate Center of The City University of New York.3 At the same time, at George Billis Gallery in Chelsea, Goldenberg is showing the latest selection of his large painted landscapes.4
Occupying a long set of cases in a busy hallway, the exhibition at The Graduate Center demands close viewing. Concentrating on the rural hills, fields, streams, and vegetation of upstate New York, Goldenberg employs a wide range of perspective, materials, and techniques—charcoal, walnut ink, pastels—that clearly draws on those classical collections.
Yet with a background in abstraction, Goldenberg seems to remain just as interested in his mark-making as what he’s made. Many of his best drawings hinge at the point of recognition, where a thicket of lines and a section of empty space come together to reveal the reflections of light in a wooded brook. This impulse is now even more apparent at George Billis, where Goldenberg has stepped back from his verdant realism to test his experiments-on-paper writ large.
Tom Goldenberg, Smithfield, George Billis Gallery.
Here George Billis smartly contrasts Goldenberg’s rural intimacy with the hardscrabble cityscapes of Todd Gordon. In Gordon’s work, it is hard not to see the painter Rackstraw Downes, who also employs snaking train tracks and fish-eye realism to give sight to the urban unseen. Yet Gordon stands on his own, especially in a painting such as The Green Barn, a scene of corrugated metal siding and graffiti that has the transporting sense of a modern ruin.
For Goldenberg, his latest paintings are more like drawn canvases, with layered sketches on a pulpy painted ground. Of course, the mechanics of drawing on paper do not automatically translate to oil on canvas. A handful of paintings here feel unfinished, while in others the dashing lines and bold colors may distract from the overall image. But the best, such as Sandro’s Hill, convey both an image and the sense of an image. Here is a perfect layering of impressions, drawn out over time and space.
1 “Claire Seidl and Kim Uchiyama: Plain Sight, Selected Paintings, Prints and Photographs” opened at Fox Gallery NYC on October 22, 2014 and remains on view through January 31, 2015.
2 Eleventh Street Arts opened at Grand Central Atelier on December 5, 2014 and remains on view through January 23, 2015.
3 “Tom Goldenberg: Landscapes” opened at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York, on September 22, 2014 and remains on view through January 18, 2015.
4 “Todd Gordon, Tom Goldenberg” opened at George Billis Gallery, New York, on December 16, 2014 and remains on view through January 24, 2015.
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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 33 Number 5, on page 59
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