Times Square Gallery exhibition review
A piece in the Conceptual Abstraction exhibit. Photo by Mimiko Watanabe.CONCEPTUAL ABSTRACTION, a new exhibition at the Hunter College Times Square Gallery, showcases the work of twenty artists working within the varied field of abstract painting over the last twenty years. Like the concurrent “Times Square Show Revisited” exhibition at the Bertha and Karl Leubsdorf Art Gallery in Hunter’s main campus, CONCEPTUAL ABSTRACTION takes as its starting point an older exhibition. In this case it is a 1991 show, “Conceptual Abstraction” at Sidney Janis Gallery in New York, and the new exhibit attempts to re-examine it in a contemporary setting.
Unlike “Times Square Show Revisited,” in which the older exhibition is completely remade, CONCEPTUAL ABSTRACTION presents one older and one newer painting by each artist in the original “Conceptual Abstraction.” Despite the combination of the old with the new, the exhibition fiercely resists a linear interpretation, wonderfully confusing any preconceived ideas that the artists’ work must have developed in any quantifiable way over the space of twenty years. Some artists included are currently making work that looks and feels the same, while others have made work that looks different, but it is clear for everyone that the questions they were asking about painting in 1991, they are still asking today. If there is any trajectory here, it is circular.
The intimidating roster of artists includes heavyweights Mary Heilmann, Peter Halley, Ross Bleckner and Sherrie Levine, among others. While most are primarily known as painters, some, like Levine, have achieved prominence working in other media as well. Everyone included is a relentless experimenter, making this a very fun show to look at—there is a variety of material (oil, acrylic, watercolor, plywood, canvas, aluminum, Day-Glo and Roll-a-Tex) and a great variety of ways that these artists manipulate it. David Reed’s contributions, #307 (1991-2) and #576 (2007), have him painting with oil as though he were using an iPhone – there are marks that look like brushstrokes made with your finger poking at a screen, completely digitized and devoid of human error. In contrast, Peter Schuyff’s tiny watercolor paintings from 1987 and his highly rendered painting “Earth Shield” (2006) are very much handmade, their sweetness located in the delicate layering of one color over another, one brushstroke over the last. The unrivaled master of material sumptuousness here is perhaps Jonathan Lasker, whose “Born Yesterday” (1989) and “The Inability to Sublimate” (2009) show off just how much he can do with a line painted in oil.
Regardless of how you feel about the individual works, CONCEPTUAL ABSTRACTION is a must-see show, for it offers the unique experience of seeing so many different viewpoints on abstract painting brought together again. It is also an exhibition that celebrates artists who have spent decades making work, showing the immense value of a prolonged commitment to one’s ideas in a field that is obsessed with the young, the new and the superficially radical.