There were so many openings last Saturday night — a total of 18 — it was impossible to see them all; one wishes the hours would be extended to 10 p.m. or the exhibitions would re-open for a few hours on Sunday afternoon. Adding to the difficulty was the fact that so much of the art was worthy of contemplation. On the positive side, the rich snippet of paintings, collages, photographs and sculptures I managed to view attest to the city’s vibrant art scene.
Contributing to the fun is the variety of exhibition spaces: some of the most interesting art was displayed over café tables, shelves of chic domestic ware or benches crowded with beer drinkers. At the other extreme, an exhibition of paintings by mostly Woodstock-based artists at the Lace Mill looked fabulous in the cavernous industrial space. Curator James Martin is an artist himself and a resident of the complex, which provides affordable housing for artists, so hopefully this Midtown space will become a fixture of First Saturday. (Fellow Lace Mill resident Jeremy Davis designed the expert and extensive track lighting.)
A bold, gestural landscape by Kate McGloughlin, consisting of swaths of ochre, gray green, blues and orange-red which described a receding field framed by woods beyond which one glimpsed sky, a mountain ridge and flaming autumnal foliage, looked gorgeous against the unpainted brick wall and managed not to be subsumed by it. The naturalistic full-size seated self portrait by John A. Varriano also was shown to advantage against the wall, whose adobe bricks harmonized with the brown background. The show also included the luminist, precisely composed and drawn landscapes of Eric Angeloch, which convey a surrealistic stillness, still lifes and landscapes by Marsha Massih, and the spare, lyrical watercolors of Staats Fasoldt; Fasoldt’s spontaneously applied swatches of pale blues, greens, reds and earth tones arranged in simplified compositions of light and dark convey both a pictorial monumentality and sense of the moment — uncannily capturing the gleam of silver light on the waters of New York Harbor or the deep shade of tall buildings against the reflected heat of the street.
The brick walls of Keegan Ales, 20 St. James St., formed a perfect backdrop for Rob Horton’s wooden sculptures. Horton, a native of Maine and a Midtown Kingston resident who works as an assistant to Martin Puryear, constructs hanging pieces out of wood, canvas, and rope, carving or bending the wood and unpeeling and bending the layers of laminate to create objects that combine elements of craft and biomorphic and mechanical forms. In one piece (untitled), layers of wood laminate are peeled back to form a pair of elongated, streamlined wings in a hanging wall piece whose “head” consists of a curved gear shaft; the surface is painted gray, with a patina resembling distressed steel, an industrial look that contrasts with the gentle flexing of the wings. In another piece, a single strip of blond wood laminate forms a monumental curve, resembling a simplified and abstracted ear; it’s firmly attached to the wall along the bottom by a fitted base formed of radiating planes of wood sewn together. (Horton said that he learned to sew from his mother and noted it’s a skill essential to the self-sufficient maritime communities of the Maine Coast.)
In contrast to these animated forms is a pod-like object, the scale of a tree burl, constructed of curved pieces of walnut whose interstices are filled with oakum and pine tar, a material that harks back to the bowsprits fashioned by the artist’s great grandfather, who was a shipwright. A piece of metal inserted into the vertical interstice along the top of the pod, where it forms a point or a prow, undermines the suggestion of water-tight insularity and emphasizes the resonant hollowness and fragility of the piece. Near the entrance of the bar, in the dusky heights near the high ceiling, hangs Benton’s ornithopter (a device designed and sketched by Leonardo da Vinci), a wooden flying machine whose paddle-like flapping wings are webbed with canvas.
“The Nature of Collage” at ArtBAR, 674 Broadway, features works by six artists, most of which are small-scale nature studies. Collages by Jane Lehman and Marilynn Rowley both feature birds, plants, water, land forms and the vagaries of the weather in layered compositions of subtle color harmonies. While Lehman’s pieces recall Japanese woodblocks in their undulating linear color masses and striking combination of understated hues with neutrals — the works convey a lyrical beauty and mystery in their abstracted rhythms and unexpected juxtaposition of near and far, as in the stunning View from the Wildflowers — Rowley’s are more atmospheric; she starts with scraps of monotypes and painted paper for the background, adding a bird figure drawn in rich pastels (the exception is Storm, in which small rectangles of yellow paper are superimposed upon a watery maelstrom consisting of layered, translucent dark brown and blue monoprints).
Karen Schaffel depicts groupings of trees, whose rough, colored forms and elongated clusters share a kinship with the birch trees of Klimt, while Lorrie Coffey is more analytical and abstract; her spare patterns of hexagons suggest the diagrammatic. In the piece Body Parts, the loose, painterly sketches of fragments of physiognomy in black ink and color washes are arranged in a grid, transforming details of the body into phenomena situated in tiny landscapes. Patti Gibbons’ small, delicate collages have a different theme — the peephole, inspired by the lit windows at night she would glimpse on rides home from Queens as a child. Illustrations from old books and texts are recombined into surrealistic narratives in which washes of color and other painted elements play with the space and lend emotional resonance (in one piece, Gibbons included an obelisk crashing into earth like an errant space ship, an image that recurred to her in dreams).
Surrealism, in this case in the idiom of fantasy, also characterizes the works of Andrew Kaminski, on display at the Peace Nation Café, 636 Broadway. Kaminski uses acrylic paint and color pencils to create richly imagined scenes suggesting dreams and altered states. In Uptown, at Francine Glasser’s therapy office at 12 John Street, are the wryly inventive collages of James Porter; the compositions of his abstracted, simple color forms suggest psychological landscapes imbued with serenity and a quiet joy. In two pieces, the color shapes (white in one case) are safety-pinned in clusters or singly to the ground, suggesting a provisional quality as well as sound and movement, should the wind start blowing hard. Also on display are Glasser’s photographs, inspired by the light shows of nature. (Her office will be open to the public on Sunday, Aug. 6, from 4-7 p.m.)
Down in the Rondout, Clove & Creek, at 43 Broadway, an assemblage of Theresa Drapkin’s Matisse-like paintings of male nudes look spectacular against the warm gray wall. The variously sized rectangular and oval paintings, hung salon style, consist of simplified planes of color and silhouetted shapes, which in some cases are combined with patterns or hieroglyphic symbols, such as eyes, snakes, or crossed bones. In black or white, the male figure lounges on a bench, takes a shower, reads, stands, sits in a chair contemplating. Broad areas of olive, ochre, pink, blue, mauve juxtaposed against white, brown and black gives the works a graphic flatness and urbanity, as if they were signs.
Photography, in three extremely different shows, is also well represented. Pivot Ground Café & Workspace, 63 Broadway, is exhibiting Virginia Luppino’s botanical photographs, most of which are in black and white. Queen Anne’s lace, ginkgo leaves, seed pods and other natural forms the artist, who resides in Saugerties, discovered just beyond her doorstep are photographed from above in natural light against black velvet, a technique that creates stark, dramatic contrasts. The compositions are gestural, with the plants often positioned off center, and play with space — most strikingly in a photograph of the sky viewed through masses of ginkgo tree leaves, in which subject and ground are reversed: the white sky resembles solid wedges of shapes and the black leaves substanceless silhouettes. Luppino also experiments with color and hand colored some of her images, which further emphasizes the forms exiled from their naturalistic settings. Her photographs are revelatory, unveiling a new vision of the familiar.
Larry Arvidson’s underwater photographs at the Arts Society of Kingston, 97 Broadway, celebrate and reveal an aspect of nature most of us have never seen — the underwater plants and animals inhabiting the waters around Nigei Island, in British Columbia. Arvidson worked as an assistant to famous underwater photographer David Hall and used a rig Hall designed to capture in luminous color, silhouetted against black, the amazing array of creatures that inhabit the cold waters off British Columbia. They include a bejeweled, bug-eyed fish, a transparent blue sea snail, a green-gold sea star and giant spiky barnacles.
Heading out to the far reaches of the city at One Mile, located at 475 Abeel, one discovers a different breed of underground life — pop performers photographed by Brooklyn resident Ed Rosenbaum at the clubs and concert halls of New York City from 1977 to 1981. As a teenager armed with a Pentax manual camera, Rosenbaum shot Bowie, AC/DC, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, Blondie, Rod Stewart, and other luminaries of the downtown scene performing at Danceteria, CBGB, the Palladium, Madison Square Garden and other venues. After Rosenbaum got a job in property management he stopped taking pictures, stashing the negatives in shoeboxes, where they sat for 40 years. Rosenbaum’s work was recently discovered by Tod Lippy, executive director at the Esopus Foundation, which subsequently published a book of the photos, entitled Golden Years (for sale at One Mile).The handful of blown-up photographs on display bring back a lost era and intimately capture the frenzied energy and glamorous vulnerability of the performers.
An important note: making the rounds at First Saturday is now easier thanks to a map of the venues, designed by Rick Whelan and published by the folks spearheading the Midtown Arts District. On Saturday afternoon and evening the city also operated a shuttle between Uptown and Downtown, which cost only $2 for unlimited rides. There were also art exhibits at Green Kill (Gary Mayer solo show, 229 Greenkill), Hone Street Art Studio/Gallery (9 Hone St.), Kingston Ceramics Studio (Shirt Factory, 77 Cornell St., Studio 305), PAKT (608 Broadway), (P)Optimism Shoppe (yellow Happy Spot projects, 622 Broadway), PUGG (murals depicting the Life of Moa, 624 Broadway), The Storefront Gallery (work by Woodstock Senior art class, 93 Broadway), Trestle Gallery (stick and stone artwork, 440 Abeel St.) and Uncanny Gallery (art doll exhibit, 17 John St.).