Friday, August 28, 2015

Last Call: Hans Hofmann Murals at the Bruce Museum, through Sept 6th

Hans Hofmann
The Gate, 1959-60
oil on canvas, 75 x 48 1/2 inches
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NYC

Now is the time to visit the Bruce Museum, if you haven't already savored their most exciting summer yet!  Four excellent exhibitions are still on view through next weekend: 
  • Walls of Color: The Murals of Hans Hofmann (through September 6th)
  • Pride, one of the Seven Deadly Sins series in Westchester and Fairfield Counties (through October 18th
  • Theodore Nierenberg: Photographs from His World Travels (through November 29th)
  • Madagascar: Ghost of the Past (through November 8th)
Each in its own right is worth the trip to Greenwich, CT.  Altogether, Bruce delivers a perfect outing for families - great art and fascinating science that everyone can enjoy.  (I love looking at lemurs since my daughter and I read Lunch with Aunt Augusta by Emma Chichester Clark years ago.)

Hans Hofmann
Awakening, 1947, oil on canvas, 59 ¼  x 40 ¼ in.
Private Collection, Photograph by Paul Mutino 
Works by Hans Hofmann used with permission of the Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust

Of special note for art history fans: Hans Hofmann's iconic The Gate, 1959-60, which belongs to the Guggenheim Museum's permanent collection, makes a cameo appearance in this intimate setting. Often reproduced in art history textbooks (and selected for Wikipedia), this oil painting exemplifies Hofmann's well-known "push-pull" interpretation of Cubism that galvanized the New York School movement. Its luscious impasto slathered on neatly executed forms ("figures") cannot be appreciated in digital reproduction. Here is a physicality of expression that we find in Jackson Pollock: the evidence of "Action Painting," which was the critic Harold Rosenberg's description for Abstract Expressionism.

Hans Hofmann
Lonely Journey, 1965, oil on canvas, 50 x 40 in.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (1989.397), 
Gift of Renate Hofmann, 1989

Image copyright © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
Image source: Art Resource, NY
Works by Hans Hofmann used with permission of the Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust

Adjunct curator Kenneth Silver, a professor of art history at NYU, rightly points out that Hofmann was famous for "his dynamic approach to color."  "He was a towering figure among New York painters. . . a teacher and theoretician" for the AbEx generation, most notably Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, and Joan Mitchell (among many others ), 

Born in Bavaria on March 21, 1880, Johann Georg Albert Hofmann settled in Paris in 1904 (as the Fauve movement was about to take over the avant-garde at the Salon d'automne in 1905). By 1908, Cubism was on the rise and Hofmann found his footing in this new movement, leaning toward to the non-objective spin-off Orphism. From here he concentrated on the tension between figure and ground.  In 1930, he came to the US to teach at the University of California in Berkeley and by the mid-1930s, he ran two schools - one in New York City and the other in Provincetown, Massachusetts. In 1963, the Museum of Modern Art gave him a retrospective.  He died on February 17, 1966.

Hans Hoffman
Mural, 711 Third Avenue (in situ), 1956

Walls of Color marks a significant moment in Hofmann's oeuvre: his mural projects made with mosaic tesserae (tiny tiles) rather than paint - very old medium that posed a new challenge for this seventy-six-year-old artist. (Mosaics made of tesserae, as opposed to natural stones, date back to the middle of the 3rd century BCE, invented in Hellenistic Greece.)

In an exciting model set up in the gallery space, we have the opportunity to study Hofmann's first foray into mosaics: a mural in the lobby of 711 Third Avenue, wrapped around a bank of elevators. In the Bruce Museum, this miniature room invites the visitor inside to view an excellent video on Hofmann's work. Today, still radiant in a cool white and gray lobby, the 711 mural reflects the zing of post WWII, 1950s exuberance. The building was completed in 1957.

Hans Hofmann
Mosaic Mural, 711 Third Avenue, New York, 1956 (detail)
Photograph by Paul Mutino
Works by Hans Hofmann used with permission of the Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust

439 West 49th St. (former School of Printing),1958

Not far from 711 Third Avenue (near 44th Street) is another Hofmann mural on the facade of the School of Graphic Design, commissioned by the New York City Board of Education.  It is 64-foot long and 11-foot tall, produced for the High School of Printing that is now the High School of Graphic Arts Communication at  439 West 49th Street. Here Hofmann's signature geometric forms seem to simultaneously advance and recede against a pure white background (his "push-pull" effect).

Hans Hofmann
Mural Fragment (Chimbote), 1950, oil on panel mounted on board, 83 x 35 ¾ in.
Photograph by Doug Young
Works by Hans Hofmann used with permission of the Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust

Finally, the exhibition features nine studies that are seven-feet tall for a collaboration with the architects Jose Luis Sert and Paul Lester Wiener. They were meant for a church in Chimbote, Peru. This project, meant for the bell tower, was never realized.

Walls of Color: The Murals of Hans Hofmann occupies the main galleries in the Bruce Museum.   Rush forth! And then slowly take in Hofmann's great works of art.

Best wishes as we end the Summer of 2015 -
Beth New York

aka Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.
New York Arts Exchange

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Brooklyn in Westchester this Summer, through August 21st

Steven Hirsch, Doris, 2014
digital O print on dibond, 24" x 36"

Diana Buckley, Assistant Director at Madelyn Jordon Fine Art in Scarsdale, has brought Brooklyn to Westchester in a beautiful show that celebrates the establishment of Brooklyn as more than a borough - and  more than a brand. Brooklyn is a state of mind ("a New York state of mind," Billy Joel might say) that fosters becoming one with the art of one's making.

Buckley explains:
"The exhibit title, I am What I am Not Yet, is inspired by a quote of the late philosopher of aesthetics, Maxine Greene.  Greene believed that artworks we encounter are 'situated encounters', meaning, an audience of a given artwork apprehends that work in the light of their backgrounds, biographies, and experiences.  In I am What I am Not Yet, 22 Brooklyn based artists have each experienced Brooklyn through their own unique lens, and try to relate their own 'situated encounters' in a way that, in aggregate, conveys a multi-faceted interpretation of Brooklyn."
Above, Steven Hirsch's Doris, comes from his Gowanus series, photographs of this well-known toxic canal. Describing how he became involved with photographing the waters, he said:“It was mesmerizing– and when the tide would start to come in and the water would move– it would create a kaleidoscope, an explosion of colors, shapes and designs. Its intensity is mind-boggling, and I tried to capture that in the images I made.” (Doris means "gift" and in Greek mythology, she is the daughter of Oceanus, mother of the Nereids.)

Sun You, Untitled 2, 2015
found objects, 1" x 1"

Sun You's found objects belong in tiny universes of wonder.  Here she tangibly captures Brooklyn as a repository of the ordinary moments that can burst into creative miracles. Moreover, she understands Brooklyn as a playful environment - pulsating with innovation, energy and daring. Brooklyn's residents have synthesized their rich diversity into an exquisite integral whole - precious and appealing in its own distinctive way.  We find this delicious complexity in Sun You's delicate assemblages.  Sun You was born in Korea and completed her BFA and MFA in Detroit.

Xiao Fu, Cross, 2014
Steel, 7.5" x 17.5" x 9"

Xiao Fu's sculpture, Cross, introduces an artist whose elegance matches her precision and skill.   Born in China, she completed her undergraduate studies in her hometown Shenyang and her MFA at San Francisco's Academy of Art University in 2014. Her migration from China to the US has brought enormous changes to her mind and the direction of her art, freeing her to explore the human spirit beyond the restrictions imposed the Chinese government.  She wrote: "I know that I don’t have the power to change the world, but I do hope that people can look at the world beyond the surface after seeing my art." 

Deborah Brown, Green Hat, 2015
oil on canvas, 36" x 36"

Deborah Brown is a name I have know for years and was delighted to see her latest work in such a lively context - it affirms her characteristic verve which has made her work so memorable.  Here, Green Hat, seems to riff on Vermeer's Girl in Red Hat (in the National Gallery in DC), as we know Brown appropriates the Old Masters with her own brand of whimsy. Is this Brooklyn humor?  Maybe - or just plain NY chutzpah.  Explosions of pink surrounding a tangle of zesty greens has just the right amount of moxey for an artist who has always been a 

Willie Wayne Smith,  Things to Bury, 2013
airbrush on canvas, 40" x 50"

The well-chosen variety of media ably demonstrates the range of creative work developing among these artists of all ages.  Willie Wayne Smith alone offers several media to choose from.  For this exhibition, Buckley selected a surreal paintings that reflects the biomorphic shapes we might find in his sculptures and installations.  Smith received his BFA from Maryland Institute of Art and his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan.

There are 23 artists in allNichole van Beek, Christian Berman, Erik den Breejen, Deborah Brown, Maria Louisa Calandra, Jaqueline Cedar, Austin Eddy, Charlotte Evans,Matthew F. Fisher, Xiao Fu, Charlotte Hallberg, Steven Hirsch, Benjamin King, Osamu Kobayashi, Lauren Luloff, Katherine Newbegin, Gary   Petersen, Sarah Peters, Willie Wayne Smith, Letha Wilson, Birgit Wolfram, and Sun You    An excellent sampling of the vast amount of art found in Brooklyn studios these days.

Bravo, Diane Buckley!  Thank you for taking on this challenge and delivering the goods to the initiated and the newbies whom - we hope- will discover the bounty of Brooklyn in situ during the coming 2015-16 season.   Subscribe to Brooklyn Rail to keep abreast of events.

Viva la Brooklyn - 
Beth New York

aka Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.
New York Arts Exchange