Singled Out

10/13/2010 2:00 AM |

Sometimes a walk through Chelsea leaves a viewer thinking more about individual works than entire shows. Such was my experience a couple weekends ago, even though the exhibitions were excellent.

This happened first at Mitchell-Innes and Nash‘s Roy Lichtenstein: Reflected (through October 30), an unintended response to Gagosian’s summer show of Lichtenstein’s worst still lives—never have I seen a show that managed to make so many works look the same. Reflected demonstrates the variation available within a single theme and method. Several sketches for Lichtenstein‘s trademark paintings, employing the stylistic techniques of comic book artists, line the wall where viewers enter the gallery, and another features a giant tableau where only the word “art” can be seen through what appears to be a storefront window. The piece adds an extra tinge of crassness to a series of large paintings that draw from mass-market imagery.

The painting I spent the most time reflecting on stuck out precisely for its lack of commercial sources. “Mirror Four Panels #1” (1971, below) oddly resembles a combination of the rarely reproduced Rothkos in which the sides of the canvas are lined with thin stripes of yellow and Barnett Newman’s long vertical zips. Blue, black and white, the piece beautifully hovers on the edge of abstraction and representation—the patterned dots in the painting instantly evoking mirrors without ever directly depicting them. It’s brilliant.

Just down the block at Greene Naftali Gallery, Katharina Wulff (through October 16) also occasionally references cartooning, along with surrealism, cubism, and Orphism. The entire show is worth spending time with: her figures are charming in their strange self-consciousness. Most of the nudes have no genitalia and of the two small male portraits near the front of the gallery that resemble twins, “Seor Blanco, der Dorfschulleiter” (2008) seems slightly awkward standing in front of mountains in a suit.

The work that stuck with me the most in this show though—the one I haven’t been able to stop thinking about—features a wide-eyed cat in a green hilly landscape. There are a lot of reasons this painting (“Untitled,” 2010, at top) shouldn’t work. A centrally located tree has cheesy, multi-colored bark. Telephone towers in the background are plopped in without any concern for rendering perspective, unlike the rest of the painting. The cat’s gaze is so exaggerated it reads like a joke. And yet, taken together, all of these obvious painting missteps combine to make the work appear unfamiliar and uncanny. I was moved.

The last exhibition I saw that day, Wulff’s provided a positive end to a gallery tour that—Lichtenstein not withstanding—left me with relatively little to say. All things considered, that’s still a pretty good day in Chelsea.

(images courtesy Greene Naftali Gallery and the Estate of Roy Lichtenstein)