Barry Schwabsky

  • View of “June Leaf,” 2022. Photo: Timothy Doyon.

    June Leaf

    This was June Leaf’s first show in her adopted hometown since the artist’s 2016 exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, “Thought Is Infinite,” which focused mainly on her drawings. And while the presentation at Ortuzar Projects included several pieces dating as far back as the 1970s, the accent was firmly on work created since the Whitney show. As ever, Leaf has been equally active in sculpture and painting, with drawing as the inevitable fount of inspiration. Her art seamlessly and beguilingly stitches together naturalistic detail and abstract structure with elusive symbolism

  • Sanya Kantarovsky, Mandible, 2020, watercolor on paper, 14 3⁄4 × 11 1⁄4".

    PREDICAMENTS

    SANYA KANTAROVSKY is quintessentially a painter—someone who lives and breathes the materials, procedures, and heritage of the art. He’s someone who, according to the curator Elena Filipovic, “believes more in the utter necessity of painting than nearly anyone I’ve ever met.” So it might seem counterintuitive that his first American museum exhibition, which opened this past month at the Aspen Art Museum in Colorado, will be a video installation—no canvases in evidence.

    But no one who knows the artist would be entirely surprised. Yes, Kantarovsky is a painter, and passionately so, but his very

  • Cora Cohen, Replace the Beloved, 1985–87, oil and Flashe paint on linen, 78 × 78".

    Cora Cohen

    About a decade ago, it seemed to become increasingly notable that a number of women painters had been pursuing aspects of Abstract Expressionism in idiosyncratic and innovative ways. In these pages, Mark Godfrey pointed to Jacqueline Humphries, Laura Owens, Amy Sillman, and Charline von Heyl—all participants in the 2014 Whitney Biennial—as protagonists of this effort to reexamine a once “forbidden” style, stripped of its former rhetoric so that, as Godfrey put it, “meaning is thrown back onto the viewer as the artists’ own subjective investments in their decisions around paint handling become

  • Janet Werner, Untitled (harlequin), 2022, oil on canvas, 69 × 52".

    Janet Werner

    “Crush,” featuring eighteen canvases made over the past two years, was a belated New York solo debut for prominent Montreal-based painter Janet Werner. Her earlier work often took the form of portraits—but imaginary ones, made without the use of real or photographic models. According to the artist, those paintings “actually came out of an investigation of abstraction.” Judging from reproductions, they certainly had nothing to do with realism, allowing painterliness its own impulses as it flirts with the grotesque. Later, she began mining fashion magazines for source material. That’s well-trod

  • Norman Bluhm, Untitled, Studies in Blue, White, Gray, 1975, oil on canvas, 4 × 20'.

    Norman Bluhm

    Frank O’Hara contrasted the art of Norman Bluhm (1921–1999) with that of Jasper Johns, saying, “Johns’s business is to resist desire, Bluhm unconsciously inspires it.” Perhaps the poet’s remark helped turn Bluhm’s instinctive aesthetic goal into a more deliberate project. In any case, by the end of the 1960s, Bluhm’s imagery had swerved from the gestural abstraction for which he’d become well-known to a mode of painting that, while still nonrepresentational, was nonetheless highly evocative of the body; the work’s aggressive energy had morphed into a more seductive sensuality. This, apparently,

  • Simone Kearney, Crier (XXI), 2022, unfired clay, 15 × 10 × 7". From the series “Criers,” 2021–22.

    Simone Kearney

    Yes, this is a disheartening era we’re living through. I didn’t really need the text accompanying “Criers”—poet and artist Simone Kearney’s exhibition here—to remind me that we’re living through a “time of global pandemic, war, and ecological catastrophe”; most days I feel like Anthony Quinn at the end of Fellini’s La strada. Au courant in that sense, Kearney’s show took its name from a series of ceramic heads, twenty-five of which occupied the main space at Brooklyn’s Undercurrent gallery. A roomful of weeping faces, however far from realistic in their rendering, might sound like a lugubrious

  • Nicole Eisenman, Maker’s Muck, 2022, mixed media, 8' 7 1⁄4" × 10' × 12' 11 1⁄4".

    Nicole Eisenman

    Nicole Eisenman’s “Untitled (Show)” could at first appear either as a painting exhibition with a few sculptures, or a sculpture exhibition with a couple of paintings, depending on which floor of Hauser & Wirth’s Chelsea redoubt you stepped into first. After absorbing it all, I couldn’t help wondering if any other artist working today can make as plausible a claim to equal mastery of both mediums. Having taken up sculpture only a decade ago, Eisenman is now clearly an artist for whom painting and sculpture are part of a single continuum: analogous ways of materially engaging with the making and

  • Bridget Mullen, Free to Be You and Me, 2021, Flashe paint and acrylic on linen, 22 × 15".

    Bridget Mullen

    At first, the imagery in Bridget Mullen’s canvases for her show “Quitters” seemed difficult to parse; but I eventually found my way into her world by grooving to the works’ facture. Because she uses the ultra-matte vinyl paint Flashe, often in combination with acrylic or spray paint, the paintings’ surfaces look very dry, which somehow conflicts, in the eye’s mind, with the fluidity of her slyly workmanlike mark-making. The color is thinly applied in layers so that a sense of depth, volume, and plasticity coexists with an acute feeling for the flat surface—another perceptual conundrum. The effect

  • Adam Pendleton, Just Back from Los Angeles: A Portrait of Yvonne Rainer, 2016–17, video projection, black-and-white, sound, 13 minutes 5 seconds.

    Adam Pendleton

    Seeing Adam Pendleton’s exhibition “These Things We’ve Done Together” so soon after trying to digest “Who Is Queen?,” his overwhelming, densely information-laden show that filled the five-story-high Marron Family Atrium at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, came as something of a relief. “The [MoMA] exhibition presents itself as an accumulation of labor,” said Pendleton of the presentation—and the viewer’s labor, if not the artist’s, could seem Sisyphean. But the piece certainly succeeded in “successfully fus[ing] a building and a situation,” to quote a phrase from Pendleton’s 2008 Black Dada

  • Rackstraw Downes, Hudson River Sewage Treatment Plant Under Construction, 1996, graphite on paper, 12 × 35".

    A LANDSCAPE WE ALL HELP TO MAKE

    WHATEVER YOU THINK realism means, Rackstraw Downes is certainly some kind of realist—and, moreover, one whose elective subject matter is landscape. That in itself suggests a quixotic temperament in an artist born in 1939 whose immediate contemporaries include any number of abstract, Conceptual, and performance artists but few realists—at least of his stature.

    And even among painters pursuing realism in his generation, Downes looks like an outsider. Despite the fact that he edited a valuable collection of Fairfield Porter’s writings, there’s nothing in his work of the intimism and subjectivity of

  • Julia Rommel, Life Boat, 2021, oil on linen on wood, 69 3⁄4 × 83".

    Julia Rommel

    It wasn’t hard to surmise what was going on in the ten gorgeously luminous abstract paintings that made up Julia Rommel’s exhibition “Uncle.” The surfaces told the tale. It was all about process: laying down mostly broad swaths of rich color, or removing the canvas from its support and restretching it over another differently formatted rectangle before applying another hue altogether (or, sometimes, a brushy monochromatic pattern), and so on. The results of all this covering and revealing, folding and unfolding—leaving creases, rows of staple holes, varying thicknesses of paint—are geometrically