New York

“Annual Juried Exhibition 80”

The Queens Museum

The one rule for submission to this “Annual Juried Exhibition 80” was that the artists reside within the geographical boundaries of Queens County. I will now explain the significance of this to readers unfamiliar with the geography of New York. Although New York City is composed of five boroughs, there is only one main center for art and culture—Manhattan. The other boroughs, Queens being one, have traditionally suffered from various art/cultural inferiority complexes vis-à-vis Manhattan. But the situation changed some in the last decade or so. The combination of radically rising rents and increasingly unavailable large studio spaces created at least one major contemporary art institution—P.S.1—and led many so-called New York artists—serious, young professionals oriented to the New York/Manhattan art scene—to reside there. Queens is, after all, only a short bridge, tunnel, and subway ride away from the main Uptown and Downtown art drags, although it is still a world away from “The City,” which is what I remember the kids from Queens who went to my high school in Manhattan called Manhattan.

What the show’s curator, Robert Pincus-Witten, art critic and art historian, has put together is a group show of 12 artists which surveys, according to his introduction, “conceptually-oriented painting, sculpture and photography.” His is a sophisticated selection by anyone’s criteria of New York-oriented Queens artists and not Sunday-painter-neighborhood-oriented ones. Pincus-Witten, although very much a New York art person, also knows both aspects of Queens art since he taught art history at Queens College, a major urban university, for several years. All except one of the artists he chose have long exhibition records including, in some cases, solo and group exhibitions at major Uptown and Downtown galleries and institutions. You can find out who is represented by whom from the catalogue which accompanies the show. But maybe you can guess who’d be right for whom from the following description of the works. The paintings range from Luis Cruz Azaceta’s half-humorous, half-horrific statements about the extreme nature of the human condition, executed in a sharp-lined, strongly colored, funky realism more powerful than Chicago art—The Great Pisser is an example—to Choong-Sup Lim’s meditative images consisting of delicate markings in watercolors, charcoals, and oil pastels on rice paper which address the relationship of form and gesture. Len Bellinger’s Bartholomew (First Basma), 1979 is a triptych executed in oil and gold leaf. With a raised center panel, and textured, light-reflective surfaces, not to mention the biblical title, it recreates abstractly the appearance of a traditional religious triptych.

Among the sculptures are Mattie Berhang’s cubical shaped, hanging ceiling pieces with (according to the artist’s statement) their purely formal concerns about an image-defining space; still we detect a note of whimsy that brings to mind Calder’s mobile in the scrap metal figurines in Spaventa. Frank Olt’s Cycle of Action is a serial sculpture consisting of twelve equally-sized, small panels which lean against the floor and wall. Intended to symbolize both the direction and movement of time, the surface images of these panels, when viewed sequentially, mark the passage of time in a circular pattern, bringing to mind the face of a clock. Vera Manzi Schacht’s ceiling installation, consisting of paper and filament, integrates natural light as an active element. Suggesting both movement and immaterial forms, the installation brings to mind clouds and other other-worldly/heavenly associations.

The photographs range from Aileen Bassis’ sepia-toned, personalized prints of Italy, which are printed specially to recreate her changing reactions to the subject (with both clear and fuzzy images), to Philip Norwich’s version of family color snapshots, where two precocious young girls strike a series of sexually provocative poses before the camera but do nothing hard core. Phyllis Bilick’s color photographs are a formal investigation of the immediate environment at P.S.1.

Tadeusz Myslowski and Richard Thatcher are the artists who I have trouble fitting into Pincus-Witten’s three media categories of “painting, sculpture, and photography.” Though Myslowski’s Perspective Distortion, a charcoal on paper, has the monumentality of painting, it belongs to the artist’s series of “Cross Drawings.” Besides that, it is placed on the floor like Olt’s sculpture, and requires us to move diagonally in relation to it in order to see and understand the distortion. Also, there’s a photographic perspective at work in three tense and fully-stretched bars. Richard Thatcher’s Five Boroughs-New York City-Censored Information Queens certainly is a conceptual artwork and the only one which deals with Queens, the borough. (P.S.1, in Bilick’s photographs is, after all, a direct extension of New York art.) Thatcher’s Queens is a print with taped-over sections containing the information we need to read the map, and it belongs to printed word/image media.

Pincus-Witten’s description of the issues in the show which guided his selection is surprisingly laconic. The big message, however, is loud and clear. There’s a lot of good art out there, and a good supply of it can be found in Queens.

Ronny H. Cohen