Art in the City: A Fifth Avenue Jaunt 

Frederick Church, Winslow Homer and Thomas Moran: Tourism and the American Landscape
Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum
Those who’ve felt their patriotism wane with repeated political disappointments of late might experience a swell of American pride upon viewing the plentiful natural beauty of this country presented in Cooper-Hewitt’s show. Arranged by region, the exhibition is an overview of the parts of the U.S. that became popular among American vacationers in the late 19th century. The thesis is that Moran, Church and Homer were the sunset-hungry pioneers whose romanticized images of America’s previously unknown wilds spearheaded rapid growth of tourism in such scenic places as Niagara Falls, Yosemite and the Adirondacks. Historically speaking, this is an interesting (and ironic) phenomenon: The untouched land quickly grew developed and commercialized by the large volume of people wishing to visit the wilderness. Artistically speaking, however, the show is a notable disappointment: Among the many studies and woodcuts, there is not one large, final painting to be seen (except in small photos on the wall text next to some of the sketches). While it was the Hewitt sisters’ intention to display the processes of these successful artists (a plaque at the end of the show delivers this disclaimer), seeing reams of sketches without any final products is a bit like climbing a mountain and then missing the view.

Eva Hesse: Sculpture
The Jewish Museum
There is a visceral appeal to this late artist’s work, which pleases art buffs and the uninitiated alike. Some might be drawn to Hesse’s quirky, abstract sculptures for their creative transformation of materials, others because of the work’s disregard for the rules of Minimalism, and still others because there is just something wonderfully animated and downright funny about a group of dented, luminous resin-and-fiberglass buckets (Repetition Nineteen III, 1968) and icicles of fiberglass and resin dangling gawkily from the ceiling (Connection, 1969). Humor, of course, is not always the first thing associated with Hesse. The German-born artist, who died of a brain tumor at the age of 34, is regarded as a tragic figure both because of her untimely death and the largely mournful content of her published diaries. There are traces of this sadness in her art too, and it’s especially evident in the last piece of the exhibition (untitled, 1970), left unfinished upon Hesse’s death: brown latex-coated ropes hung in a corner of the gallery like a giant, ominous cobweb. “I wanted to get to non art, non connotive, non anthropomorphic, non geometric, non, nothing, everything,” she said about one of her pieces. In the process of making art free of all references, she imbued her sculptures with uncanny life and personality.

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