I will be participating in the Salon ha Cubia exhibit opening October 28, 2017, at 8 pm in Nayot in Jerusalem, as part of the city-wide Manofim project. Closing January 25, 2018. Hope to see you there. Invitation

Pleased to be participating in the exhibition HOME(less) at HUC-JIR Museum NY. Running through the end of June 2018. For details see post

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Bite from the Apple: National Academy Annual

"Nude Sniffing Red Flower" 2010 Oil on masonite, 18 x 20 in.  by Lois Dodd (image courtesy of the National Academy)
Artists who live in far-flung places around the globe, such as Jerusalem, use every travel opportunity to see what is going on “out there.” Though the internet is now rich with museum sites, personal artist web sites, and Facebook to fill in the gaps between trips, it is only in front of an original art work that one can sense scale, appreciate the technique, observe the surface, stand at a distance as well as get up close and personal, and hope to get that all important “ahhh” reaction.

As I’ve written here, I use this blog not only to share the art that I see in Jerusalem and other locations in Israel,  I will occasionally share what I’ve seen abroad.

Manhattan seems to be a never-ending smorgasbord of cultural offerings, and for artists with limited schedules, like dieters at a buffet, also presents a delightfully frustrating dilemma to select well from all the tempting choices. I chose to visit the National Academy’s Annual exhibition. With 113 works from painters of all stripes, sculptors, print makers, and architects, it was like attending a tasting of gallery offerings in NY under one roof. I left visually sated, yet without art fatigue overload.

The National Academy has a long and illustrious history. Unique amongst arts organizations, it is comprised of an art school, an association of artists, and a museum. The building, located on Museum Mile of Fifth Avenue, has undergone an overhaul, reopening in September, 2011, better lit and with less quirky exhibition spaces.

The Annual’s origin dates to 1826 and today remains a showcase of work by serious art practitioners. This exhibition includes not only a selection of peer-elected National Academy members, but also invited guest artists from across a range of fields, resulting in a multi-generational conversation between approaches, styles, schools, and theories. The catalogue is online.

Contemporary representational painters and figurative artists were well represented in this exhibit, which is where I will start. Very much a "something for everyone experience," I will be touching on a range selected from the large show.

It will be no surprise to painting devotees that amongst the seniors of the group are some of the stars of the exhibit. Forever young Lois Dodd (born 1927), who paints in an ostensibly simple manner,  gets to the essence of a nude painted outdoors with great economy of means. When it is said that “less is more,” this spare and engaging painting comes to mind.

Alan Feltus "The Young Man and the Flower Lady" 2010 oil on linen 48 x 39 7/8 in.

Alan Feltus (born 1943) shows a work typical of his mature painting, heavily influenced by Italian Florentine painters. In "The Young Man and the Flower Lady" a couple is contained within a space dominated by a table, and bears a subdued quiet, a sense of being caught on the verge of a breath being taken. A seated male gazing downwards, the standing half nude woman to the right of the table focusing sideways to the right and out of the format, perhaps indicating a disconnect between the couple. The carefully composed space binds them together. This piece continued to pull me in from afar only to be further entranced by the delicacy of the surface and Feltus's achievement of translucent skin, pale blue veins whispered in understatement.

Mary Beth Mackenzie "Christian and Ivy," 2011 oil on canvas, 51 x 64 in.

As a marvelous foil for this work, "Christian and Ivy" by Mary Beth Mackenzie (born 1946) was hanging almost across from Feltus's piece. More aggressive in her brushwork, she also shows a couple spanning a table, he slumped on the left, she sitting on the right with her gaze outwards, an industrial view behind them, adding to the quality of urban dis-affectation or modern alienation.

Philip Pearlstein "Model with Ostrich, Eagle and Duck" 2009 oil on canvas 60 x 60 in.

One of the pioneers of contemporary figurative painting, Philip Pearlstein, (1924) has been working with the figure for decades, painting his models and his eclectic assortment of flea market finds in the same way, one of cold scrutiny under artificial light in odd set-ups. In "Model with Ostrich Eagle and Duck,"  the model is cropped at her eye level, the three birds are of a feather, but, then again, not - one is a statue, one a weather vane and one a children's riding toy, with two separate eyes bearing down on the viewer. The weather vane arrow brings us into the scene where it points to the model's crossed upper thighs. Pearlstein seems to stand on the fence between detached observation and coincidental emotional reaction to ostensible arbitrariness.

Francis Cunningham, "In the Studio" 2010-2011oil on canvas 80 x 60 in

Odd in its own right,  Francis Cunningham (born 1931), shows "In the Studio," a grouping of two nude models and a painting of a cloaked reader in profile, surrounding a centrally placed skull. An accomplished painter and observer of the figure, here the earth and skin-tones make for a restrained painting, a fitting echo to the Christian religious overtones. The play of cool tones and warm tones is worth studying. Jerusalem audiences may recall seeing his work locally, which I wrote about here.

Raoul Middleman, "Miss Murphy" 2011, oil on canvas, 48 x 24 in.

For something completely different, veteran Bal'morean, Raoul Middleman (born 1935),  is showing "Miss Murphy"  a mass of paint swirls and energetic brush strokes. Middleman is well-known for his paintings of the cast of city characters best-described as Baltimore "grunge." He zeroes in on the unique individuals that form the backdrop of city life, not the well-heeled commuters, but the down and not-quite-out souls who give the city its heart. The hands alone pulsate with vitality.

Susan Jane Walp, "Doublemint" 2010, oil on linen, 8 1/2 x 8 3/4 in.

As a long observer of the quiet world of still life, Susan Jane Walp (born 1953) turns the mundane into a precious moment of contemplation. In "Doublemint," her slight shifts of color, delicate green-tinged greys, and carefully considered edges combine to offer the viewer a chance to dwell upon the beauty of the over-looked.

David Kapp, "Go" 2009-11, oil on linen, 44 x 48 in.

Moving along to works less involved with close observation, David Kapp (born 1953), shows "Go," which,  like many of his works concentrating on the beat of vehicles streaming through New York's traffic canyons,   puts the viewer right on the street. Here, the strong diagonal pulls the eye straight across the canvas, color and spacing of the cars echoing the punch of city living.

Chie Fueki "Heather" 2010 acrylic and mixed media on mulberry paper on wood 84 x 60 in.

Chie Fueki (born 1973) has a different approach to observation. She combines a grid, conflicting eye levels, floating dress stripes echoing keyboards with flat shapes to create a lively juxtaposition of geometry and color. Nice shocks of red, blue and pink add their own verve to a painting that is otherwise comprised of tones of black, white grey and tan.

Tom Burkhardt "86 Elements of a Painting" 2011 (detail), Oil on book pages, 152 x 62 in. overall dimensions
In a large wall of abstract studies, Tom Burkhardt (born1964) presents an investigation of simple masses or line in one color against the fixed format of the beige-aged book pages, each a unique piece, and exhibited as a single work together. The entire wall zigs and zags from form to form and color to color as the eye takes in all the works at once. Here the sum of the parts is greater than any one piece on its own.

Joyce Robins, "Pink Grid" 2011, clay, glaze, paint 10.5 x 9.5 in.

The ceramic "Pink Grid" by Joyce Robins (born 1944) was a refreshing piece to see in this exhibit.  On an intimate scale, it seemed to invite one to enjoy the range of color indentations in the ceramic "canvas" as pure pleasure in color. Not a mechanical grid,  it bears the inexactitude that speaks of being touched by the human hand and made by an individual. I could not help but relate this work to the recent unleashing of the much -hyped spot paintings by Damien Hirst into the stratosphere of the art world. For me, this modest piece trumped those.

Lack of space prevents me from mentioning all the works which I considered special  (not that there were not low points as well). Lovers of printmaking, sculpture and followers of architecture are all sure to find what to admire.

Exhibit continues through  April 29, 2012.

All images courtesy of the National Academy

This post was previously published on The Times of Israel:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Purim Play

Rembrandt. Esther Preparing to Intercede with Ahasuerus  c. 1633. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada.
It is ever curious to me when the headlines, the ancient times and my little life all seem to be twisted threads in a bizarre tapestry. I have just returned from a two- week blitz of travel which took me to worlds far from my own. Always a news junky’s challenge to be away from the routine, even computer-less for days at a time, I was reduced to overheard clips caught in the nether-world of connecting flights and trains.

Moving from the home of my first gracious hostess, who is actually named Esther, to my next warmly welcoming hostess, I arrived at my last stop in NYC to find the street where I was to stay strewn with barriers for the impending arrival of President Obama’s entourage en route to a local destination, Lincoln Center a likely choice. Eavesdropping on a discussion at the crosstown bus stop the following day, I heard a local describe the vast numbers of vehicles in the motorcade, necessary to move the single most powerful man in the world down the street. I never did find out where he went.

"Haman Begging Mercy from Esther"
Workshop of Rembrandt and (perhaps) Rembrandt, "Haman Begging Mercy of Esther," oil on canvas, 1635-1660's, Muzeul National de Arta al Romaniei, Bucharest (public domain)
The Lincoln Square Synagogue Shabbat sermon made note, as I suspect many others did, of the Story of Purim, which starts tonight in Jerusalem (others celebrated on Wednesday night and Thursday), and the timing of the visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres, en route to meetings with President Obama in Washington, where the AIPAC conference centered on the high level tensions in Israel and elsewhere due to the nuclear ambitions of Iran, the geographic location of the original Purim story.

The evening before, garlic asparagas, steak and fresh berries were accompanied by a lively discussion focused on the diplomatic and military options, as well as concern for the remaining Jews still living in Iran. Were they able to leave or not? Were they impoverished and had no choices? Were they leading cushy lives they did not want to jeopardize? Were they like many Jews in Germany in the '30s who refused to see the writing on the wall? Were they more like hostages to the Islamic realm and the whims of an evil leader?

Then home again. A visit to the doctor to repair the back stress from suitcase lifting and 12 hours in Economy Class each way brought me to the young X-ray technician with an unfamiliar accent in Hebrew. By now I am fairly good at guessing the origin of British, Australian, South African, South American,  French, Russian and certainly American immigrants (winners of the Worst Accent in Hebrew Award, myself included), but I couldn't pinpoint this one. She said she was from Paras, or Iran. Relocating to Israel just a year earlier, she traveled as a tourist abroad and never went back; she learned fluent Hebrew, and now supports herself, unlike back home where her parents provided for her.

So, what was her take on the situation of the Iranian Jews? She claimed, for the most part, that people are able to leave but choose to stay in their familiar world and their lives as they know them, familial and professional connections being too hard to contemplate breaking with and starting anew.
Lastman "Triumph of Mordechai"
Pieter Lastman, "The Triumph of Mordechai," oil on canvas, 1624, 58 X 83 cm, Rembrandt House Museum, Amsterdam (public domain)

And what does this have to do with art? The Purim story seems once again to be all too relevant to the lives of the Jewish people. An ancient Haman and a present-day tyrant share much more than geography, with  too many common traits to ignore. As we celebrate the survival of the Jews in ancient times from perceived certain destruction, parallels to current times will be in the thoughts of many. This subject has been well explored in art. Rembrandt painted the scene of Esther preparing herself to meet the powerful King, now in the National Museum of Canada in Ottawa. Rembrandt and his workshop painting the above scene of the unexpected twist in the the story, where Haman, is at the mercy of Queen Esther. Pieter Lastman, a teacher of the young Rembrandt, painted the scene of the Triumph of Mordechai.

Reading Esther's Scroll
"Reading Esther's Scroll' Paris © 2012 by Heddy Abramowitz

Women Reading
"In the Women's Section, Purim" Paris  © 2012 by Heddy Abramowitz

In our time, observant Jews annually recount the story, one with more drama than any tela-novella. These photographs were taken in the women's section of a Sephardic synagogue in Paris's sixteenth district last year where I was a visitor during the reading of the Megillah.

Mother and Daughter - Purim in Paris
"Mother and Daughter Reading Esther's Scroll" Paris © 2012 by Heddy Abramowitz

I was interested in focusing on women reading the Purim story, where, after all, the protaganist is a woman whose courage helped turn the fate of her people.

The question I get most often when I am travelling is: "How can you live in Israel?" coupled with "Aren't you Scared?" or "You are so Brave." Well,  truthfully, I don't think today's world puts anyone out of harm's way. We are all vulnerable. New Yorkers still live in NY after 9-11. Home is home. We are not scared, we are not brave; we just live our lives. We remember. We live. And we celebrate.

Costumed Girl
"Petite Parisienne on Purim" © 2012 by Heddy Abramowitz
Wishing everyone a very Happy Purim.

This post originally appeared on the Times of Israel  here: