Donald Kuspit

  • Joan Snyder, Symphony of Pain and Joy, 2022, oil, acrylic, papier-mâché, paper, and ink on linen, 54 × 66".

    Joan Snyder

    Joan Snyder’s abstractions, bold and delirious responses to nature, are imbued with intense feeling. Take Symphony of Pain and Joy, 2022—one of the seven canvases in “To Become a Painting,” her exhibition at Franklin Parrasch Gallery—a prismatic, taxonomic display of exuberant mark-marking and sensuous form that is at once steadied and explosive. A kind of theatrical grandeur is evident in Snyder’s work, some of which includes elements of the outside world (of course, she uses paint—oil, acrylic—but she also incorporated twigs, grasses, dirt, flowers, and other sylvan items into a few of the

  • Francis Bacon, Figure in Movement, 1972, oil and dry-transfer lettering on canvas, 78 × 58".

    Francis Bacon

    Five of the ten portrait paintings in this Francis Bacon exhibition, “Faces & Figures,” were studies, indicating that they may have been works in progress. The artist’s hyperactive, agitated brushstrokes seem to imply that a person’s true essence can never be definitively nailed down. Thus, Bacon (1909–1992) offers us Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on light ground), 1964, bizarre embryonic renderings of his burglar lover (who committed suicide in 1971), and Three Studies for a Portrait, 1976, a visceral excavation of some unknown soul with disagreeably wormlike lips. The show also

  • Pier Paolo Calzolari, Untitled, 2021, salt, pigment, oil pastel, gold leaf, walnut, feather, steel, and lead on wood, 39 3⁄8 × 19 3⁄4 × 4 3⁄4".

    Pier Paolo Calzolari

    All thirty of the works in “Painting as a Butterfly”—an exhibition by Italian artist Pier Paolo Calzolari—were abstractions. Some were geometric or nearly monochromatic, while several others, such as Rideau V, 1984, a landscape-like picture suffused by a midnight blue, were gestural and full of luscious, flourishing, sensual colors. Running across the top of Rideau V is a fringe of variegated gold and crimson, from which a series of thin vertical lines descend, like delicate rain. Little blossoms of red scale these marks as an uneven band of dark yellow pierces the center of the canvas lengthwise,

  • Anne Ryan, Untitled (no. 284), ca. 1948–54, collage, 7 × 5 1⁄4".

    Anne Ryan

    Anne Ryan (1889–1954) was a novelist, a poet, a painter, and, perhaps most importantly, a collagist, although her collages are also poems, composed not of words but of exquisitely articulated shapes and colors. Ryan had her “breakthrough” in 1948, when she saw a presentation of Kurt Schwitters’s collages at New York’s Rose Fried Gallery. She saw this show the same month the German artist died—one wonders if he was reincarnated in Ryan, who was so inspired by his work that she began making collages on the same day she saw the exhibition, as we know from her daughter Elizabeth McFadden’s wonderful

  • Jean-François Millet, Le départ pour les champs (The Departure for the Fields), 1863, conté crayon on paper, 17 1⁄4 × 11 3⁄4".

    Jean-François Millet

    It is hard to believe French painter Jean-François Millet (1814–1875) was ever considered a “dangerous” artist—as Paul Delaroche, who was his teacher at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, once said—because he broke with the academy’s dictates, eschewing the history-painting tradition in favor of less grandiose subjects, such as peasant farmers and the rural landscape.

    Indeed, it was dangerous to be a realist and a humanist, to deal with the “human side of art,” as Millet himself once put it. He was radical not only for what he chose to depict, but also for his unique handling of paint. He celebrated

  • Pat Passlof, Miss Julia, 1961, oil on linen, 80 × 69".

    Pat Passlof

    Pat Passlof (1928–2011) was an important figure in the development of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. She was there from the beginning and, indeed, one of its incubators. In 1948, she studied with Willem de Kooning at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, the place to be if one wanted to become an avant-garde artist. That was also the year Arshile Gorky committed suicide; his Surrealized take on abstraction, along with that of his friend de Kooning, remained an influence on Passlof. But as “Memories of Tenth Street: Paintings by Pat Passlof, 1948–63”—a presentation at Eric

  • Matthew Brandt, Lance’s Study, 2021, photographs on glass chandelier pieces, painted metal armature, 55 1⁄2 × 21 × 21". From the series “Rooms,” 2020–.

    Matthew Brandt

    One might say that Matthew Brandt’s work is about the appropriation of nature by art, where it survives as an aesthetic trophy in a museum, gallery, or wealthy patron’s home, not unlike the stuffed head of an exotic animal. Brandt’s solo exhibition here offered up four different series of works, including “Birch,” 2019–, and “Rooms,” 2020–. The former is made up of portraits of birch trees the artist photographed around Saint Petersburg; the trees’ likenesses have been burned onto actual birch panels and treated with gold leaf. (A related series here, “Silver,” also 2017–21, features gelatin

  • Erna Rosenstein, Północ (Portret matki) (Midnight [Portrait of the Artist’s Mother]), 1979, mixed media on canvas, 26 × 20 1⁄8".

    Erna Rosenstein

    Erna Rosenstein (1913–2004) was a Polish Jew and Communist who ended up abjuring her political party when Poland fell to the Soviets after World War II. But she didn’t abandon Judaism, despite the loss of her parents, who were murdered by a bandit while her country was under Nazi occupation. Though terribly disillusioned, she never lost faith in the substantive illusions of art. She was a painter as well as a poet: A member of the avant-garde Kraków Group during the 1930s, she refused to make propagandistic socialist-realist art under Joseph Stalin’s brutal reign.

    This wide-ranging exhibition,

  • Richard Rezac, Chigi, 2017, painted maple, cast Hydrocal, aluminum, 45 × 69 × 43".

    Richard Rezac

    For his solo exhibition “Pleat,” Richard Rezac transformed the gallery into a cabinet of wonders. All fourteen of the objets d’art on display—two mobiles, two stabiles, and ten wall pieces—were curious constructions, at once eccentric and rarefied. His sculptures occasionally call to mind pieces by Alexander Calder in their formal inventiveness, but are more gnomic and, of course, less monumental. Each work is crafted from an ingenious combination of contradictory materials, such as hard inorganic metal or cement (aluminum, bronze, Hydrocal) and soft organic wood (cherry, maple, pine), the

  • Brea Souders, Untitled #26 (from Vistas), 2019, watercolor on ink-jet print, 12 1⁄2 × 10".

    Brea Souders

    It is not easy to make an imaginative photograph, because the document tends to solidify whatever it re-presents: The camera’s eye is not unlike Medusa’s, turning everything it sees into stone—petrifying it so that it loses subjective import, becomes hard matter of fact however much it is felt (or romanticized) by the person taking the picture. The camera’s ruthless gaze traps consciousness in reification, as Theodor Adorno surmised. According to the German philosopher, under the “total spell” of the camera’s view, “the subject is lifeless,” despite the artist’s attempt to infuse the photograph

  • Dorothy Dehner, Burst #5, 1953, watercolor and ink on paper, 15 3⁄4 × 20 1⁄2".

    Dorothy Dehner

    One of many exquisite pieces in this gorgeous exhibition of abstract drawings and sculptures by Dorothy Dehner (1901–1994) was Garden at Night, 1957, a linear bronze-and-steel tableau that has a playful yet primeval quality to it, as though it were based on imagery from the walls of Lascaux. To my mind, it bears a resemblance to Arshile Gorky’s 1944 painting Garden of Wish Fulfillment. But Dehner’s flourishing patch of flora signals joie de vivre, while Gorky’s canvas is woebegone and deathly—it speaks to misery, to the futility of life. The little black star in Dehner’s piece is a sign of hope

  • Juan Uslé, Soñé que revelabas (Hudson Blue) (I Dreamed That You Revealed [Hudson Blue]), 2021, vinyl, dispersion paint, and dry pigment on canvas, 120 × 89 3⁄4". From the series “Soñé qu revelabas,” 1997–.

    Juan Uslé

    “When we estimate nature as being dynamically sublime,” Immanuel Kant once wrote, “our idea of it must be fearful. . . . Bold, overhanging rocks which seem to threaten us, storm clouds piled up in heaven . . . a high waterfall in a mighty river . . . reduce our power of resistance to impotence as compared with their might.”

    Juan Uslé’s quartet of abstract, vertically oriented canvases in “Horizontal Light,” his solo exhibition at Galerie Lelong, felt as imposing as Kant’s great waterfalls. Three of them were ten feet high and roughly seven-and-a-half feet wide, while the fourth was similar in