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A Thing about Painting

Happy Thanksgiving Day to all our American readers! -- Ed.

Painting is that pleasant, innocent amusement. But 'tis more; 'tis of great use, as being one of the means whereby we convey our ideas to each other, and which in some respects has the advantage of all the rest. And thus it must be ranked with these, and accordingly esteemed not only as an enjoyment, but as another language, which completes the whole art of communicating our thoughts; one of those particulars which raises the dignity of human nature so much above the brutes; and which is the more considerable, as being a gift bestowed but upon a few even of our own species.

Jonathan Richardson, An Essay on the Theory of Painting, 1775
The above quote, from the Painting 101 exhibit at Sargent's Daughters, is a perfect beginning for a newly reorganized gallery and for me to approach a city, New York, currently loaded with exhibits of great painting.

Paintings convey thoughts; sometimes the process is more nuanced, a puzzle, a mystery to be solved. The five-artist show at Sargent's, for example: although somewhat similar, abstracted, pushing and playing with paint, they each use the medium to different ends. Jonathan Lasker and Dennis Hollingsworth take pleasure in thick graphic globs of paint. Sandi Slone's floating forms of color can indeed be both pleasant and amusing, in a good way, while Francesca Dimattio takes daring leaps into chaos, which is solidly held together by an imagined architecture; it's controlled ecstasy. All five swathed in a bit of mystery, as is Daniel Rios Rodriguez's all-knowing, small blue pear. The smallest paintings often have the biggest punch.

There is a veil of mystery to Sangram Majumdar's new paintings at Steven Harvey. Majumdar has a way of pulling you deep into the picture; then moments later you'll want to pull back in search of another point of reference. Similar to the telling of a story, over and over. With each telling it changes slightly. The intent is still there, as is the honesty: our playful memory and life experiences kick in. The original intent gets layered, and a good tale becomes a full-spun yarn, with lots of surprises. (Sangram Majumdar: peel continues in two locations: Steven Harvey Fine Art at 208 Forsyth and around the corner at Projector, 237 Eldridge.)

Two painters that I really get excited about are Jake Berthot and Leon Kossoff, and both of them are showing a block apart! Berthot at Betty Cunningham has a sensitive silky touch that exposes his subject ever so slowly from darkness to light, while Kossoff, over at Mitchel-Ines & Nash, gnarls his way forward with thick, gritty, chunky layers of paint. There is a British sensibility to paint: Turner had it, Freud, as does Kossoff. These two artists, so different on the surface, end with a crescendo of beauty and honesty, one with a final splatter of liquid paint, the other a ghostly revelation.

Mystery combined with myth and a good dose of mirth can be found in Kyle Staver's recent exhibit, her first at Tibor deNagy. In Staver's paintings all the assembled have grandeur, the women are strong natural beauties. Her attention to detail is finely tuned, and often -- just so much fun!

Dropping the veil and fade to the black paintings, but keep the mystery and humor. I was first introduced to Ad Reinhardt through his graphic work, his didactic, collaged sputterings about the New York art world. He was a multitalented artist, scholar, world traveler and lecturer. David Zwirner has a dozen of Reinhardt's ultimate black paintings -- they're amazing -- and a room full of his intricately assembled mantras. Remember that this was in the day of cut and paste and white-out. I've always been a fan of these works: they're funny, biting, rambling critiques of the art world of his day. His voice is so needed today, with sky-high auction prices, greedy dealers, artists and collectors -- nothing new, of course, but he would be keeping it honest.

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