NYC Art Roundup: Contemporary Figuration at Its Finest / by Sam Abelow

Below is a chronological recap of my visits to galleries, the weekend of February 15 - 16.

“Strangers,” Dana Schutz, 2018. Oil on canvas 88 x 84 inches. Photographed by myself, as installed at the Petzel Gallery.

“Strangers,” Dana Schutz, 2018. Oil on canvas 88 x 84 inches. Photographed by myself, as installed at the Petzel Gallery.

Dana Schutz

On view through February 23 at the Petzel Gallery, 456 W 18th St, Manhattan.

“Touched,” Dana Schutz, 2108. Oil on canvas, 30.5 x 26. Detail, photographed by myself.

Dana Schutz’s acclaimed show “Imagine Me and You” exalts figurative painting evermore, with a power and humor all her own. The epic canvases are slogged and dashed with heavy amounts of paint. The safflower oil, which she uses as medium, gives off a tangible odor. The onslaught of these powerful sights and smells are a sort of pleasure, especially modern in their strangeness.

In the standout canvas, “Painting in an Earthquake” (pictured at top), Schutz aptly portrays the conflict so prominent in her latest series. The potency of the heavy, daggered, pulled, scrubbed and flowy, slippery paint adds to the tension she is portraying, while simultaneously delighting the eye and soul (the nose too, maybe).

So, it is a joyous thing to see such wondrous grotesques, painted on an epic scale, with vigor, intensity, abandonment and skill. This show reaffirms Schutz as one, amongst a few, of the great figurative painters of our time.

“Dancer,” Jordan Kasey, 2018. Oil on canvas, 52 x 108 inches. Photographed by myself, as installed at the Nicelle Beauchene Gallery.

“Looking at a Painting,” Jordan Kasey. Oil on canvas, 65 1/2 x 85 inches, , 2018. Detail photographed by myself at the Nicelle Beauchene Gallery.

Jordan Kasey

On view through March 17 at the Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, 327 Broome St, Manhattan.

Click to view full image: Stiler’s sculpture on the left, Despont drawing on the right.

Nicelle Beauchene’s exhibition of Jordan Kasey’s, “...animal, vegetable, or mineral?” series represents all that skillful contemporary figuration can do: Highly formalized explorations of form, lighting effects and color relationships, span a collection of precisely unified works.

The bulging figuration of Picasso’s Neoclassical period, as where the model’s forms have inflated, becoming heavy like marble, is met with a nocturnal, infrared palette and delicate, controlled surfaces.

Kasey’s, “Looking at Painting” (detail pictured), is indicative of her larger project: She is a painter absorbed in the prospects of what figurative painters have done, and how this field can be further refined and expressed. And, with her sculptural bodies and thoughtful handling of the brush, she has contributed much to this endeavor.

A rare little find: In the gallery’s office stood Ruby Sky Stiler’s architectonic, cubist sculpture, circa 2011 (from her “Inherited and Borrowed Types” show). This was paired with the psychedelic geometries of Bali-based artist Louise Despont. Stiler’s piece recalls the hermaphrodites of ancient alchemy, and the midnight musings of the dream-state, albeit with a Greco-Roman flavor.

Various works by Sandro Chia, photographed by myself, as installed at the Marc Straus Gallery.

Sandro Chia

On view through March 31 at Marc Straus Gallery, 299 Grand St, Manhattan.

A seemingly endless series of impressive floors at the Marc Straus Gallery opened up to the serenity of Sandro Chia’s intimate watercolor series. In this show, one has the sense of a profoundly mature artist in a deep state of mystic solitude. The unusually opaque watercolors portray variations on a central figure (often including an accompanying dog or horse), with a solipsistic simplicity, elegance and inner peace.

Three walls, lined with watercolors, give the impression of a daily, meditative practice. The titles read as a mantra, always beginning with “O God,” and following with phrases like, “Fill all the emptiness in my work with your presence,” or “Let me never forget all work is hollow unless it binds me to others and to You.”

These quasi-religious, yet highly individual — and in that sense “Gnostic” — musings are reminiscent of Chia’s comrade Francesco Clemente, the latter of which is highly influenced by Tantric mysticism. Both Clemente and Chia were notable figures of the Neo-Expressionist movement in the 80s.

And yet, now as ever, their spirituality is part of a larger conversation in the art world. The Hilma af Klint retrospective, for example, in addition to this Chia ensamble, pushes us to question: What is the relationship between the artist and spirituality? How can the modern person understand the spiritual influences behind many great works of art?

“F(akakt)ocaccia,” Giordano, 2016 - 2019. Glazed ceramic, Orange Tang, epoxy resin, artificial kumquat, cattails, nail polish, sparklers, shellac, leather, steel, wire hanger, contact lenses, bald eagle excrement, 13 x 10 x 10.5 inches. Photo courtesy of the artist and SARDINE.

Daniel Giordano

On view through March 17 at SARDINE, 286 Stanhope St, Brooklyn.

In one of these apropo of nothing, seemingly cosmic winks, a large number or emerging artists and other aficionados packed into SARDINE, a gallery located in Bushwick — like, well, sardines.

Daniel Giordano’s show of sculptures, “The Big Linguini,” paired his fantastic use of ceramics with everything from 24K gold leaf to bald eagle excrement.

These objects, with their complex mixture of material, seem to have been lifted from the primordial soup and dropped into the small gallery.

Giordano is a talent to be watched, as his refined sense of aesthetics, spontaneous Raku fired clay work, and eclectic, irreverent use of materials are evident of an electric personality.

New Release: The Art of Carl Jung

Edited by The Foundation of the Works of C.G. Jung. W.W. Norton & Company, 2019. Including 254 illustrations.

Finding myself flipping through this gem at the Greenlight Bookstore, I was struck by the quality of Jung’s seriousness, with which he paid close attention to his inner life, utilizing artistic methods as a form of self-exploration, without ambition to show.

In fact, Jung was opposed to the idea of himself as an artist, although this book reveals a consistent production and uncannily modern taste for the “primitive” style. However much this book reveals the “art” of C.G. Jung, it also puts a profound question to professional artists and laypeople alike: Am I paying attention to my inner self, and the vital dreams that come from within? And am I enriching my personality with loving attention, without the need to be “seen” or acknowledged, but for the fruitfulness of such engagement in and of itself.

The intense genius of Jung’s personality unfolds in yet another volume, emerging from a seemingly endless well that was his life’s work.