Upper East Side Contemporary

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday October 25, 2017

An afternoon of gallery-hopping on the Upper East Side is a perfect cure if you are wishing you were in Europe. With its tree-lined streets, distinctive townhouses, major art museums, and Central Park defining its western edge, the neighborhood’s many contemporary art galleries offer a bracing view of some of the most compelling art of the past 50 years.

Yesterday I grabbed an umbrella to catch a number of shows that are closing this weekend, and a few that will remain a while longer. From north to south, here’s my must-see list:


David Salle | Ham and Cheese and Other Paintings, through Saturday, October 28 at Skarstedt Gallery, 20 East 79th Street Info. This expansive show of new work by an artist who keeps getting more interesting is housed in a mansion a few blocks from the Met. The title work in the show, along with several other large canvasses, occupies the second floor. Salle, whose post-modern sensibility is overlaid with a bent for Surrealism, has invested his trademark quotidian images with new painting materials like Flashe, a super-matte paint that enhances qualities of pictorial depth in the flatly painted surfaces. Downstairs, two smaller paintings that pay homage to Max Beckmann suggest an even more rigorous compositional sense of organization to come. Photo above: Peggy Roalf


The first U.S. presentation of new works by Peter Doig since 2009 is on view at Michael Werner Gallery through through November 18. 4 East 77th Street Info. Arguably one of the most interesting artists working today, and unwittingly the subject of a shameless art scam last year, the Scottish-born Doig pushes the art of painting to its limits, creating built up surfaces that are as interesting as the subjects portrayed. Something of a nomad, regularly moving between several locations, he formerly disavowed place as a reference for his imagery. Since returning in 2000 to his childhood home in Trinidad to live, however, his newer works are as much about the atmosphere and enchantment of the subtropical island as they are about the [usually] solo figures that occupy the mostly small canvases installed here. Doig, like a traveler without a destination, creates imaginary places that offer a fantasy escape to an island, or a mountain that eludes reality. Photo left courtesy Michael Werner Gallery


RYB: Mary Heilmann Paintings 1975-1978, closing Saturday, October 28. Craig F. Starr Gallery, 5 East 73rd Street Info From the press release: Inspired as muchby Wonder Bread wrappers and Superman as by Piet Mondrian and Barnett Newman, this series is pivotal to the development of Heilmann’s practice. The paintings mark her first use of bright color and the emergence of her characteristically playful style: a mix of formal simplicity and geometric abstraction with personally expressive surface textures…. As John Yau writes in his essay for the exhibition catalogue, “…Heilmann’s geometric paintings come across as both handmade and homemade. Nothing like them was being made at the time.”

Simultaneously rebelling against and influenced by Minimalism and Conceptualism, Heilmann pioneered the infusion of abstract painting with craft tradition and pop culture. By limiting her palette to the three primaries, using paint seemingly procured from a hardware store, she essentially freed herself from unwanted distractions, thereby opening an avenue for exploring surface in all its sensuous glory, from smooth and shiny to rough and matte—and everything in between. The show is comprised of loans from the artist, the Museum of Modern Art, the JP Morgan Chase Art Collection, the Neuberger Museum of Art, and private collections across the country. Photo above courtesy Craig F. Starr Gallery


At Half Gallery, located in a sliver of a townhouse with no visible house number, recent works by Louise Bonnet is being shown for the first time in New York. At 43 East 78th Street, at the end of a cul-de-sac and up a vertiginous flight of steps, the gallery is offering an invigorating slap in the face with a small group of paintings by the Swiss-born artist who now lives in Los Angeles.

Bonnet explores fleeting feelings of melancholy, nostalgia, and displacement in her portraits of cartoon-like, yet meticulously-rendered characters. She draws inspiration from her roots in illustration and the influential comic books of her youth, and the female figures here shout out the artist’s influences, from Philip Guston, Peter Saul, and to a degree, Picasso. Bulbous, ballooning flesh gone ballistic, with faces hidden behind metallic curtains of hair, these women don’t seem to be looking for companionship of any kind. Bonnet credits her imaginative approach to growing up without TV. A few scratchy crow-quill ink-like drawings demonstrate the precision with which the artist approaches her work. Info Photo above: Peggy Roalf


One of the best things about seeing art in the townhouse galleries that inhabit the UES is imagining what it would be like to live with the works on view—all you have to do is place your furniture inside the rooms through your mind’s eye. This exercise is always possible at the Gladstone Gallery, housed in the recently restored townhouse built by Modernist architect Edward Durrell Stone for his own use. Currently on view is Rosemarie Trockel | Plus Quam Perfekt, closing Saturday, October 28.

One of the most celebrated artists in Europe, Rosmarie Trockel is less well known here than her German contemporaries, including Anselm Kiefer and the late Martin Kippenberger. And given the chance to engage the American public with her 2012 retrospective at the New Museum, she actually made it more difficult by including works by other artists whom she admires. In an interview for the New York Times she said, “I think of work often as the invisible made visible, and it doesn’t matter so much to me whether I made it or not,” as pieces by her and the other artists were readied for three large glass vitrines that looked like museum furniture from the 19th century.

Trockel's current solo show at Gladstone 64 is, however, is of whole cloth, with seemingly factory-made glazed ceramic and plaster sculptural forms in modernist vitrines—all in a black-and-white and pale blue palette that seems derived from the townhouse’s own colors. In this presentation of  free-standing pieces and wall-mounted reliefs, and graphic works that reference ordinary objects, including a razor blade, the artist’s feminist agenda is evident, but in imagery far more restrained than her wool works art shown here in 2013. Photo above courtesy Gladstone 64


Also on view:

Aneta Regel | Second Natureat Jason Jacques Gallery, 29 East 73rd Street, closing Saturday, September 28 Info. From the website: Contemporary ceramic sculptor Aneta Regel incorporates volcanic rock, basalt, and granite into her colorful clay pieces. In the Polish-born artist’s first solo exhibition in the US, she presents three dozen new works, inspired by the Polish landscape.

John Chamberlain |  Masks, closing Saturday, Oct 28. Gagosian Gallery, 980 Madison Ave., at 76th Street. Malevolent masks beaten out of the same sheets of crumpled automobiles as his large-scale sculptures. Info

Robert Natkin And The Days Are Not Full Enough, at Hirschl & Adler Modern through November 11 Info. From the Catalogue:  Described as the “author of a dappled infinite,” Robert Natkin (1930-2010) created some of the most innovative color abstractions of the late-twentieth century.  Populated by stripes, dots, grids, and an array of free-floating forms, his light-filled canvases are sensuous, playful, and visually complex, representing “a unique formal universe of unparalleled beauty.” 


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