Critics’ Picks

Dirk Stewen, LA MUSIQUE AUX TUILERIES (MUSIC AT THE TUILERIES), 2017, gouache and watercolor on paper, 18 x 14 x 1 1/2".

New York

Dirk Stewen

Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
521 West 21st Street
January 6–February 15, 2018

In the upstairs gallery here, Dirk Stewen presents thirty-two individually framed pages of color reproductions of works by twentieth-century icons—such as Matisse, Picasso, and Klee—likely taken from old art catalogues. They have been torn, redacted, and reengineered with newly added elements. Indecipherable slivers of the original prints, with text in the form of artwork captions (primarily in German and French) and page numbers, read as fragmented calderas now overlaid with amorphous blots in gouache and watercolor. Muted browns, blues, and reds commingle with brilliantly hued moments so that the shapes appear fossilized at the brink of creation.

The images, from the 1930s and 1940s, lend the patina of a simpler age in life and art. In several instances, circles have been cut out and collaged, while thin veins of stitched thread traverse the picture plane. Stewen deftly conducts a complex process of annexation, organization, and coloring with a variety of media, dexterously balancing the architecture of his compositions. STILLEBEEN (STILL LIFE), LA MUSIQUE AUX TUILERIES (MUSIC AT THE TUILERIES), and PFINGSTEN (PENTECOST) (all works 2017) are of particular note for their glassy, agate-like radiances.

The adjoining project space has eight larger arrangements of mostly black-and-white photographic prints—details of landscapes, buildings, or figures—with ink stains and circular motifs. They are looser and carry a hint of the funereal, but they lack the beguiling resolution and quiet geological aura of the smaller works.