New York

Mary Heilmann and Joan Snyder

Paley and Lowe Gallery

A handsome new space called the Paley and Lowe Gallery has opened downtown on Wooster Street. Its owners plan to sponsor group shows in the gallery space and give access to the artists’ work in their studios as well. The premise—that group shows can induce enough interest in individual artists to encourage further investigation of their works in their studios—is a questionable one, Its fault lies in the selective process involved in group shows, where work is chosen that will look “nice” in the gallery, instead of for its toughness or representativeness. Unfortunately, it’s impossible not to make assumptions about the body of an artist’s work from one or two paintings small enough, appropriate enough, to fit in a compact gallery space, and indeed the impact of this first group show was a general down from seeing works that suggested a striving for the easy look of gallery art.

A show like the one at Paley and Lowe leaves me dissatisfied because the art there is by and large devoid of open struggle. There are two artists in the show, Mary Heilmann and Joan Snyder, whose work does fare better than the others. Heilmann is experimenting with the idiosyncratic use of canvas as the material and medium of her paintings. Her two works, Moonlight Sea and Earth, come off too pretty-pretty on Hie gallery walls. Their nascent sense of materiality is vitiated by conventional handsomeness, rather than exploited fully, say to the extent that Eva Hesse made materials yield their own bizarre beauties. There is, however, a less immediately attractive canvas back in the gallery racks that aggressively utilizes the fraying of canvas to create an exciting objectness missing from the works out on the wall

Joan Synder’s painting does evince the toughness I was looking for. Her canvas, Romantic Renewal Mechanism, is not easy to grasp or even to concentrate on. Its first impact is sloppy: close daubs of paint that drip and stain and drool down the canvas, pushed so close to each other that a viewer must force himself into the canvas to be able to concentrate on the quality of separate groups of strokes that are caught like nervous insects on a pencilled grid. There is considerable spatial play in this work, held close, tight, and nervous. The sense of motion is checkmated, horizontal stroke against vertical grid. Color is sometimes garish and harsh, sometimes delicate; in sum it seems to evoke shades of earth and sky, growing things, sunset. There are only a few free-breathing strokes in this dense jungle. This is a peculiarly symbolic painting. The artist’s private shorthand of strokes each has a different mood, a different touch. Snyder is highly sensitized to the impact of her strokes, to their physical sensuality.

Kasha Linville