WSU 2020 Art Faculty – Virtual Exhibition

The James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History, Wayne State University, presents the 2020 WSU Faculty Exhibition, a virtual exhibition that opened November 19, 2020.

The Art Department Faculty Exhibition at Wayne State University began as an installation in the Community Arts Gallery but quickly became virtual in mid-November 2020 to conform with university Covid-19 requirements. Faculty members from the department who advance the study and practice of art history, design and fine art come together to reflect the university’s full spectrum of area disciplines.  Click on this link, and you’ll find these images above are links to each faculty member’s work here: https://www.waynestategalleries.org/2020-faculty-exhibition-2

Adrian Hatfield, If this isn’t nice, what is?, 2019 oil and acrylic on canvas 48” x 36”

The painting and sculpture of Adrian Hatfield remind this writer of the term magical realism, more often referred to in literature, but that may apply here.  The term magical realism was introduced by Franz Roh, a German art critic in 1925. When Roh coined the term, he meant it to create an art category that strayed from the strict guidelines of realism, which Hatfield’s collage-like work conveys. Hatfield’s work recombines art historical imagery from the industrial revolution and the Romantic era with imagery from current and environmental concerns. In the work, he creates a black & white drawn universe, juxtaposed to these full colored floating dimensional shapes and landscape, part of a dualism that plays with the viewer’s process.

In his statement, he says, “As I explore this dualistic theme through the remodeling of art-historical and scientific imagery, the resultant pieces are mournful, unnerving, and yet oddly hopeful.”  Adrian Clark Hatfield earned his B.F.A. from Ohio State University and his M.F.A. from Ohio University.   https://www.adrianhatfield.com/

Margi Weir, Caution Guardrail, 2020 India ink, Sumi ink, watercolor

Patterns are a large dominating part of Margi Weir’s oeuvre, as illustrated here in this work, Caution Guard Rail, 2020. She uses this technique she describes as Snap Line when she dips cotton twine into thinned acrylic paint or ink and snaps a taut line onto a supporting surface. The spray from the line often begins the process for the composition. Weir’s body of work is expansive and includes paintings, drawings, prints, and installations. The paintings and prints are dominated by a highly developed geometric and colorful pattern. There is a theme reflected somewhere in the pattern, often in the border, where she stitches together multiple symbols to make them visually appealing.

She says in her statement, “In one body of my work, I use a computer (a non-traditional painter’s tool) to repeat images that I stitch together visually in order to make an appealing pattern, often resulting in tapestry-like, spatially flattened compositions.  This references pre-Renaissance and/or non-western methods of pictorial organization, for storytelling purposes, that were used in textiles, ceramics, and architectural decoration.  This particular use of juxtaposed images, stacked and repeated, is a unique addition to the visual language of painting in the 21st century.”

Ms. Weir earned her MFA in painting from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA); her MA in painting from New Mexico State University. She also holds a BFA in painting from San Francisco Art Institute and BA in art history from Wheaton College.   https://margiweir.weebly.com/

Millee Tibbs, Transfrontalier, 2018 Gelatin Silver Print + Custom Frame

To describe Millee Tibbs’s work as landscape photography would not be complete, although she is using a camera and capturing images of mountainous terrain. Instead, that would be the starting point for various manipulations; whether it be the entire shape of the image or the overlay of a second geometric shape on the terrain, there is an astute variety in how these images are presented.  The artwork derives from Tibbs’s interest in photography’s ubiquity and the tension inherent in manipulating reality. Sometimes it is in the overlay of a geometric shape on the mountainside; other times it includes the shape of the image, mat, and frame. It’s as if the mountain terrain becomes the backdrop for an artist interested in what I might call a shaped canvas work: Frank Stella, 1965; Ellsworth Kelly, 1970, or Elizabeth Murray, 2006.

She says in her statement, “My work has evolved into an investigation of idealized landscape imagery – the kind that is easily consumable and often commodified. I am fascinated with the landscape genre and its language, the aesthetic imposed onto the land through photographic framing, and the historical rhetoric inherent in these images that justified Manifest Destiny and conquest through what is left out—namely inhabitants.”

Millee Tibbs earned her B.A. from Vassar College and her M.F.A. from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)    https://www.milleetibbs.com/

Sheryl Oring, “I Wish to Say” Video, 5:13 minutes

The video work of Sherl Oring investigates social issues through projects that incorporate on-camera interviews that examine public opinion. In “I Wish to Say”, Oring sets up a portable office where woman in secretarial costume interview individuals at large about the state-0f-affairs in the U.S. and documents their comments using a typewriter, intending to main a postcard to the White House.  To date, nearly 4000 postcards were mailed.

Having worked in educational television, it is important to say the standards and caliber of production in these short videos are of the highest quality: the recording of imagery and audio and the direction and editing of these videos are highly produced.  The “I Wish to Say” project has a companion book from the University of  Chicago Press, Activating Democracy, a result of helping people from across the United States voice their political concerns.

From the Public Art Review, “Sheryl Oring’s multiyear, ongoing I Wish to Say project—in which she sets up a desk with a typewriter and invites people to dictate a letter to the President or a presidential candidate, which she types and sends—is a catalyst for a deeper look at artists’ intersection with public policy.”

Sheryl A. Oring earned her B.S. in Journalism at the University of Colorado and her M.F.A. from the University of California.  http://www.sheryloring.org/

Works by the following full and part-time faculty are featured in the exhibition: Maria Bologna, Kiley Brandt, Betty Brownlee, Allana Clarke, Pamela DeLaura, Jessika Edgar, Laura Foxman, David Stephan Graves, Richard Haley, Adrian Hatfield, Margaret Hull, Lauren Kalman, Deborah Kingery, Ruth Koelewyn, Brian Kritzman, Claas Kuhnen, Evan Larson-Voltz, Heather Macali, Katie MacDonald, Heather Mawson, Judith A. Moldenhauer, Carole Morisseau, Sheryl Oring, Kathyrose Pizzo, Tom Pyrzewski, Kyle Sharkey, Rebekah Sweda, Andrea Thurston-Shaine, Millee Tibbs, Maureen Vachon, Margi Weir, and Golsa Yaghoobi.

Wayne State University,  2020 Faculty Exhibition, a virtual exhibition opened November 19, 2020, and runs through January 8, 2021.

 

 

Russ Marshall @ DIA

Detroit Institute of Arts presents Russ Marshall: Detroit Photographs, 1958-2008 Image courtesy of DIA

Russ Marshall, Installation image courtesy of the DIA

The Detroit Institute of Arts is currently exhibiting over 90 black & white photographs by the Detroit photographer Russ Marshall in their first-floor de Salle gallery. Russ Marshall: Detroit Photographs, 1958–2008 opened November 15, 2020, and will run through June 27, 2021. Department Head in the Prints, Drawings, and Photographs department and the James Pearson Duffy Curator of Photography, Nancy Barr has been working at the DIA for the best part of twenty-five years and is responsible for the very tasteful curation of this rich and comprehensive exhibition.  Although the work broadly covers six decades of freelance work capturing the local labor movement in and around Detroit, for this review, I will focus on the imagery that speaks to Marshall’s artistic work both from his interests in the cultural events of Detroit and his travels to Europe during the years 1987-1990.

To understand his beginnings, Russ Marshall was born in 1940 in the coal-mining town of South Fork, Pennsylvania, to a coal miner and industrial factory worker family. His parents relocated to Detroit in 1943, and he grew up in a federal housing project surrounded by the neighborhood activities comprised of thousands who worked in the automotive factories. His father worked in the Chrysler DeSoto plant assembly line where steel from Great Lakes Steel company provided the iron ore that transformed the raw material into steel for car parts. In his teens, Marshall was the owner of a Scout 120 box camera and began capturing the people around him and the places where he lived.

Marshall says in his statement, “Our family photo album was probably my first significant exposure to photography and on some level, at an early age, it was impressed upon me that it was important to keep the memories of these miners, steelworkers, and farmers alive.”

He goes on in the Huffington Post to describe his childhood, “Growing up in a federal housing project in a working-class neighborhood in Detroit provided a unique perspective to a young boy in the 1940s and ’50s. With activities of the big three auto companies always in the news, which could affect most of my relatives and neighbors, including my father who worked on the Chrysler DeSoto plant assembly line, I was conscious of where I was in this life — where I fit in.”

Russ Marshall, First Annual Detroit Blues Festival, 1977, Dye-based inkjet print, 2019

It was September 22-25, 1977 that Marshall must have discovered the new filters that could be used on a 35mm single reflex lens that applied a star-burst effect filter to light sources as seen in the entrance shot of the first Detroit Blues Festival.  During these predigital years, the filters absorb part of the light available, often necessitating a more prolonged exposure. This image provides a high contrast moment in time, probably 35 mm negative, dominated by the then-latest star filter’s effects.  In 1977 it was a time for trying the filter and its impact, but eventually, photographers grew tired of the special effect. From the citation, the negative was recently printed by creating a Dye-based Inject print in 2019. My guess is that Marshall may have scanned the 35mm negative and brought the image into a digital environment to print.

Russ Marshall, Men’s Lounge, 1959, Gelatin Silver print, 2005

Some will notice the Men’s lounge at the Michigan Central Train depot as a moment in time where the two men are gazing directly into the camera.  The low light source is probably natural light from large windows off-frame to the right.  The citation tells us it is 1959, at a time just as the civil rights movement was just gaining momentum.  The attraction here is on two fronts; the composition, off-center to the left, and dramatic light provide the symbolic idea of two young men, one white, one black, sitting next to each other with ease. For this writer, this may be the strongest work in the exhibition.

Russ Marshall, Soho District, London

In addition to Marshall’s journalistic work, the exhibition includes images featuring Marshall’s photographs taken of public life in England and eastern Europe as the Cold War was on the decline from 1987-1990. The photo taken in the Soho district of London,  captures a figure entirely in silhouette right of center, which depicts this London street’s mood, tightly packed with cars.  The street lights (possibly filtered) takes the viewer back in space along the street’s edge.  A picture like this could quickly be taken on a tripod, where the exposure and focus would require a still camera or braced himself for a slower shutter speed.  From Marshall’s images in Detroit factories and city streets, he usually includes a figure, whether it was hippies on Belle Isle or city workers in a protest line.

Russ Marshall, Ambasador Bridge & Zug Island

Many of Marshall’s industrial images are products of controlled light and soft focus.  Telephoto lenses can make objects in the distance appear larger, and the time of day and printing filters can create a mood.  The Ambassador Bridge and Zug Island image uses these tools and the design element of repetition to capture what he sees as a marker in time.  Often a photographer will set up his camera on a tripod and experiment with various exposures where one will work with the effect he is after.  In this image, the little smoke that billows from behind the six stacks of dark vertical chimneys catches light from the source near the horizon and creates a focal point just left of center.  The sky could be easily manipulated in the darkroom using a dodging tool that helps the late evening sky become diffused and darkened at its edges.

Russ Marshall, Woodward City Man, 2000, Gelatin Silver print, 2005

Similar to London’s image, Marshall grabs a moment of a man on a bicycle in silhouette with the focus on the mood and light, but it is essential to include a figure.  Why? Because it humanizes the setting and provides the viewer with a sense of scale. I asked Marshall about the square formatted images that could suggest using a 2.25-inch format to present square-framed compositions, but he said the square was created in the darkroom from a 35 mm negative.

It would be easy to say that these images fall under the influence of Robert Frank, who spent time in Detroit documenting the auto industry and the people of Detroit.  It would be impossible for someone so dedicated to photography as Russ Marshall to not be drawn to the work of Robert Frank.  Photographers who have seen Frank’s book, The Americans, and are familiar with his images, still feel the overpowering influence of his work today.

The exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts is organized by themes: Everyday Detroit, Public Life, Workers, Sounds of Detroit, and A Lens Towards Europe, including some rare images of an intact Berlin Wall.  Although most of Russ Marshall’s work was journalistic by the nature of the subject, his eye for artistic compositions that transcend time makes the work a perfect exhibition for the DIA.

Detroit Institute of Arts, Museum Hours: Wed – Fri  9am – 4pm, Sat – Sun 10am – 5-pm

Closed Mon & Tues   The museum will be closed New Year’s Day.

 

Mark Beltchenko @ MFSM

Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum at Saginaw Valley State University exhibits the work of Mark Beltchenko

Mark Beltchenko, Installation image, Images courtesy of MFSM.

The Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum conducted its 2018 Regional Biennial Juried Sculpture Exhibition, a state-wide competition for sculptors, and the first prize went to the Detroit Artist Mark Beltchenko.  Part of that process resulted in a one-person exhibition at the museum. The Detroit-area sculptor is highly skilled in multiple media can be currently viewed online at marchshallfredericks.org  The title of this virtual exhibition ‘SOS (or ***—*** in Morse Code) is often used to denote phrases such as ‘Save Our Ship’ and is comprised of six different series of works by Beltchenko: INSIDER, BIRTHWORKS, HISTORY LESSONS, NOT MY PRESIDENT, PEDESTAL, and DISTRESS, spanning from the year 2006 to the most recent works completed in May 2020.

Mark Beltchenko, MFSM, virtual exhibition at their website, 11.2020

Museums in Michigan and around the country have been hosting virtual exhibitions due to the Covid-19 regulations and have harnessed various technologies to assist in the process.  The MFSM used MatterPort technology, allowing the viewer to begin at the open of the exhibition and proceed for a self-controlled visit through the virtual space. https://www.marshallfredericks.net/mb

Mark Beltchenko, HISTORY LESSON – 3rd STONE steel, limestone, brass 6 x 11 x 8 inches

As mentioned, Beltchenko’s work is sorted by what he calls series, and these stone pieces are cut from building parts and then combined with other material. Steel, brass, and limestone carved to look like concrete structures are the ghosts of a man-made world in decay. The metals protrude from and through the concrete-appearing objects as the sculptor reclaims the man-made world’s parts.

Mark Beltchenko, PEDESTAL SERIES #2, limestone, steel

Another series is Beltchenko’s pedestals. This series is a dystopian view of what art could look like in a world void of artistic expression and freedom. The sculpture, Pedestal #1 has an engraved plaque that states “1 of 3 carved objects discovered on the North American continent of Earth.” Art encapsulates and makes possible reasonable communication throughout the history of humankind. The limestone has been carved to resemble human bone as the pedestals are made of steel vein structures that are bare, out of balance, and leaning uncomfortably on edge.

Mark Beltchenko, GOOD OLE NUMBER 45 – steel, 22 x 13 x 24 inches

Artists are people with political views, but few choose to bring those views into their art.  Mark Beltchenko is a three-dimensional artist who decides to devote a small part of his work to his view of the United States’ 45th President.  The artist uses thorns in this artwork represent the poisonous nature of the 45th President and his current administration; the hiring’s and the firings, the infighting, the tell-all book writing that now exists.  So much so, it requires the museum to place a disclaimer upfront: CAUTION This exhibition contains subject matter and imagery that some may find difficult, disturbing, and uncomfortable. Museum staff is available to discuss the works and the artist’s intent.

“The views and opinions expressed in this exhibition are those of the artist and do not necessarily reflect those of the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum, Saginaw Valley State University, our funders or sponsors, including Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.”

The director of MFSM, Megan McAdow, is quoted from a review, “Beltchenko is not a loud or verbose man, but his work screams at us with a dire urgency. That is not to say that his work is obvious; rather, it is not. It requires effort. One must spend time with the work and breathe into it. You may not immediately recognize the discourse; however, allow yourself to linger, and as one lingers, the layers begin to unfold and reveal its meticulous detail and dialogue. It affects and changes you.”

Equally comfortable working in stone, steel, aluminum, wood, and the non-ferrous metals, Beltchenko’s work serves as a meditation on the good and bad in our current lives: The environment, political hypocrisy, positive growth, greed, and human narcissism – not necessarily in that order, are all covered through his works.

His three-dimensional imagery communicates ideas in ways that are both primitive and profound.

The artist, through his work, is clear about his political views. Beltchenko states: “These works reflect extreme emotion because I’m highly affected by what is going on. I’ve never been politically motivated in the past, but we are at a point where we can’t take this anymore. I have a voice, and my voice is in my art.”

Mark Beltchenko earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Alma College, Alma, Michigan.

Marshall Fields, Sculptor, in his studio in the mid-1980s.

The exhibition at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum, Mark Beltchencko: • • • – – – • • • (SOS) runs through January 16, 2021.

To plan your visit:   https://www.marshallfredericks.net/mb

 

Moving Forward @ OUAG

Oakland University Art Gallery opens the fall season with a faculty exhibition

Installation image, Moving Forward, OUAG, 10.2020

Every fall since I can remember, the Oakland University Art Gallery, under the direction of Dick Goody, Professor of Art, Chair of the Department of Art & Art History and director of the Oakland University Art Gallery, has started off the fall season with a large curated show (supported with a four-color catalog) that would have required months in the planning and often brought in artwork from various parts of the United States and beyond.  Given the current situation under Covid 19 restrictions, Goody has opted to curate a faculty show, including his own work, supported with information on the web site to provide a venue for his faculty members. I suspect he is waiting until later in 2021 to present the public with something more in keeping with his previous tradition. Nevertheless, the gallery is open to the public, with Covid 19 restrictions in place,  noon – 5 pm, Tuesday through Sunday, closing November 22, 2020. It’s worth a visit.

Cody VanderKay, Flattening, 32 X 43 X 3 20, PAINTED OAK, 2020

 

The work of art that jumped out at me was Backstage, by the artist Cody Vanderkaay, an eclipsed shape object with a highly constructed surface of vertical squared planes painted in progressive shades of green. It’s a new experience.  Not a figure, landscape, still life or photo image reference, but a newly experienced object.  In the surge of artist returning to painting the figure, Vanderkaay stays on course with his abstract imagery presenting a consistent path for his work to expand and enlighten.

He says in his statement, “The artworks explore and consider how individuals, objects and spaces interrelate, and how relationships between these entities develops over time. The sculptures displayed in this exhibit signify various states of change: A circular plane of wood appears pleated and compressed to produce a variegated effect; a vertical square column bends in diverging directions under invisible force; a small-scale architectural relief implies stories behind the scenes.”  Cody VanderKaay was born and raised in North Metro Detroit and graduated from Northern Michigan University with a B.F.A. in Sculpture and from the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia with an M.F.A. in Sculpture.

Sally Schluter Tardella, Bulb, Oil on Canvas, 72 x 48”, 2020

The work of Sally Schluter Tardella, Bulb, also attracted this writer, a sort of melancholy oil painting that revolves around a painter’s favorite subject, light.  This single bulb illuminates its surrounding  vertical space filled with tones of red, brown and grey and a repeating motif of ellipses, lines and small shapes creating a somewhat mysterious abstract space.  It is the idea that draws the viewer to the work of art highlighted by something we all recognize: a small domestic light bulb.

Tardella says in her statement, “A wall surrounds, encloses, immures. A barrier, it is a continuous surface that divides rooms, separates and retains elements. I see transparent and opaque layers of material from above and below, as I imagine cross sections of wood beam structures folding into new systems of wall. In Bulb the atmosphere is lit by the single light bulb, the space defined is both deep and blocked by surface texture, whereas in Light, the light source is transparent and the space is shallow. In Fan the screen is made of tactile architectural symbols.”  Sally Schluter Tardella uses architectural tropes as metaphor to explore personal ideas of body, gender, culture, and politics. Tardella moved from New Jersey to study Painting at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Susan Evans, Some Art From My House, Mixed Media, 2020

This eclectic collection of photo imagery, Some Art From My House, is exactly that, a mixture of small photographic images that vary in color size, format and subject, which is meant to demystify the taking of images and their content.  There are images I like and others not so much, but it is a window into her perception of what photography is, at least for her.

Evans says in her statement, “ What we look at everyday becomes familiar and generally, familiar things become preferences which define ideas, beliefs and experiences. Although I have not made any of these works as a group these pieces become an intimate self-portrait. The true meaning of the piece is not about each image individually, instead it is about the sum, juxtaposition and connection between the different elements. Who then is the true author of the artwork?”  Susan E. Evans received her B.F.A. in photography/holography from Goddard College, and an M.F.A. in photography from Cornell University.

The Moving Forward exhibition features the work of the full-time faculty of the Department of Art & Art History at Oakland University that includes the work of Aisha Bakde, Claude Baillargeon, Bruce Charlesworth, Susan E. Evans, Setareh Ghoreishi, Dick Goody, David Lambert, Lindsey Larsen, Colleen Ludwig, Kimmie Parker, Sally Schluter Tardella, Maria Smith Bohannon and Cody VanderKaay.

OUAG Hosts Faculty Exhibition Moving Forward closing November 22, 2020

 

 

Elise Ansel & Al Held @ David Klein Galleries

Installation image, courtesy of the David Klein Gallery, photo by Samantha Schefman

Both exhibitions delayed their openings this spring because of the Covid 19 pandemic, but now, each are on display separately at the two galleries. The new exhibition of oil paintings at David Klein downtown, Palimpsest, is a collection of eleven works of art by Elise Ansel.

You ask yourself where do artists get their ideas for a painting?  Is it from observation, photographs, events, setting up objects, imagination or from the depths of the collective unconscious?  The answer is usually all or a mix of the above. Artists bring their own experience to the creation.

Elise Ansel finds motivation in historical works of art from which she reconstructs a realistic representational work of art using abstract expressionism as her vehicle. The work in this exhibition bases its reconstructions on Old Master paintings from the Detroit Institute of Arts collection.

She says in her statement, “I create by translating Old Master paintings into a contemporary pictorial language. I mine art historical imagery for color, structure, and meaning. Thus, my paintings use the Old Masters as points of departure. They move into Abstraction by transforming the representational content, which is obfuscated and ultimately eclipsed by my focus on color, gesture, and the materiality of paint. I interrupt linear, rational readings so that the real subject becomes the substance and surface of oil paint, the range of its applications, and the ways in which it can be used to celebrate life. My work deconstructs both pictorial language and authorial agency to excavate and liberate meanings buried beneath the surface of the works from which my paintings spring.”

Elise Ansel, Hybrid 1, Oil on canvas, 48 x 36, all images courtesy of the David Klein Gallery

 

Rachel Ruysch, Flowers in a Glass Vase, Oil on canvas, 33 X 26, 1704, Image courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Arts

The work Hybrid 1 draws on the Ruysch still life and attracts the viewer in a multitude of ways. Set against a black background, the textured strokes, color palette,  Miro-like delicacy and  expressive linework renders a kind of feminine harmony. Hybrid 1 plays off Rachel Ruysch’s Flowers in a Glass Vase, 1704,  and leaves the experience wide open to interpretation.  The most profound concept here is that we all bring our own personal experience to a work of art. So when I view the Ruysch still life, where do I go?  Handsomely composed and decorated, like the photograph of an apple, it leaves little room for interpretation.

Studio, Elise Ansel

Elise Ansel, Judith lll, Oil on Canvas, 72 x 56″,

The same concept applies to the reconstruction of Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith 1. Ansel goes to great lengths in the interpretation by writer Mary Garrard with references to her book, Reclaiming Female Agency: Feminist Art History After Post Modernism, in which she writes, “The cultural habit of seeing woman as an object-to-be-looked-at, the site of scopophilic pleasure” is denied and replaced with a focus on the artist hand.  What exactly is being killed in Gentileschi’s painting: toxic scopophilia and the myth of white supremacy.” Forgive me, but there aren’t too many psychiatrists who use Sigmund Freud in their practice these days.

Ansel’s paintings are vibrant and compelling in their execution.  Using an extra-large brush stroke of vibrant colored oil paint against these mostly dark backgrounds without reference to Caravaggio or Rembrandt would work just fine.  Some paintings retain images from Old Master works she has dissected, while others are pure abstractions whose relationship to any source is invisible. The visit to the museum feels more like contrivance and is not needed for this viewer as the paintings stand on their own and express their own individual form of abstract expressionism.

Elise Ansel, a native of New York City, is a graduate of Brown University and earned an MFA from Southern Methodist University. Her work has been exhibited widely in the United States and abroad and is in multiple private and public collections, including the Museum of Contemporary Art Krakow, Poland, Brown University, Providence, RI, and Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME. Elise Ansel lives and works in Portland, Maine.

 

Al Held @ David Klein – Birmingham

Al Held, Installation, All images courtesy of David Klein Gallery

For this exhibition, David Klein draws on the Al Held Foundation for a modest show of Al Held watercolors from the early 1990s, which were painted mostly near Rome, Italy, at his studio on Janiculum Hill sometime after his residency at the American Academy (1981-82) where he spent time creating his watercolors and studying what some would call the Renaissance vision.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1928, Al Held grew up in the East Bronx, the son of a poor Polish family thrown into the stresses of welfare during the depression. He showed little interest in art until leaving the Navy in 1947, where he enrolled in the Art Students League of New York. In 1951, with support from the G.I. Bill, Held traveled to Paris for two years to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. In Paris, he decided that realism was not for him and moved into Abstraction and worked alongside the early 50s abstract expressionists. The single major retrospective of his career remains the survey curated by Marcia Tucker at the Whitney in 1974, which traced his development from his heavily pigmented, gestural Expressionist paintings in the 1950s, to his pioneering of flatly rendered geometric Abstraction in the context of post-painterly Abstraction in the 1960s, to his veering off on his own path in his reintroduction of illusionism into abstract painting in the early 1970s.

Installation image

Al Held, Tesoro 14, Watercolor on Paper mounted on board, 31 x 40″, 1993

The watercolors are dominated with geometric shapes, often either suspended in space or moving backward in perspective.  The use of primary color played against secondary color creates a convergence of color and shape.  Some of these paintings have horizontal windows, reminding me at times of Diego Rivera without the use of the figure.  These futuristic landscapes defined by complexly organized architectural scaffolds are not grounded nor do they pay attention to an outside light source; instead, they darken the interior of a cube or box. Inspired by Renaissance conceptions of the universe, one could see classical compositions that are topless or bottomless, juxtaposed to Mondrian, firmly planted on earth. These works on paper are stretched on stretcher frames and float in their picture frames, much like an oil painting.

Al Held (1928-2005) was one of the last and best of the big-impact abstract painters to emerge from the postwar era.  My personal favorite in this exhibition is Tesoro 14  that moves horizontally, right to the left, in a circular motion like a giant cog in a wooden windlass that harnesses and transfers energy.  The use of color complements is dominated by primaries and a centered composition that generates its densely packed strength.

In 1962, Held was appointed Associate Professor of Art at Yale University in 1962. He was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1966. He has also been included in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago, to name a few. His work is in the public collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

At David Klein Galleries, both exhibitions are on display through August 22, 2020.