“Reverie” at Galerie Zürcher, New York

Stephen Westfall in the studio; courtesy The Bedlam Beat

* * *

Is it just me or is there something a bit untoward about a curator who includes his own work in an exhibition he’s put together?

Critic and painter Stephen Westfall isn’t the first person to do so, and God knows there are bigger self-promoters in the art world. But, in fact, Westfall’s untitled 2011 canvas fits snugly within the organizing principle informing Reverie, a group show of eight abstract painters at Zürcher Studio. “When I am struck by someone else’s paintings,” Westfall writes, “I experience a temporary and pleasurable sense of appropriation, for a moment I feel I made that painting.” Perhaps this is rationale enough for orchestrating a tête-à-tête with one’s peers.

Peers, not betters. What’s notable about Reverie is its evenness. The exhibition features painters of greater and lesser interest and import—besides Westfall, there is Andrea Belag, Shirley Jaffe, Alix Le Méléder, Sylvan Lionni, Julia Rommel, Patricia Treib and Stanley Whitney—but not necessarily merit, at least not here.

As a fan of the inestimable Jaffe, the near-octogenarian New Jerseyite who’s made Paris her home since 1949, I was delighted to encounter two of her signature accumulations of clean, quick and flat shapes. I was also stymied by how seamlessly they were tucked in amongst sensibilities markedly less bumptious and quirky. You’d think a painting like X, Encore would fairly leap off the wall, particularly when juxtaposed with Rommel’s dour Minimalist tropes and Belag’s blurry runs of soft light and prismatic color. But it doesn’t. Jaffe’s picture is, as seen at Zürcher, a team player. Credit Coach Westfall with that unlikely curatorial feat.

Aiming to create “a coherent offering, a nostrum, a visual poem” from “differences” in sensibility, Westfall has mounted an exhibition that operates on the same lines as his paintings—that is to say, he’s achieved a laconic equilibrium molded from elements that might otherwise collapse upon themselves. Studiousness, then, informs Reverie, as does an underplayed wit.

Optimism, too. “Painting is dead,” the veteran painter dutifully reiterates, “but the holly and ivy are twining from out of the ground where it was buried. It’s spring, after all.” Within its gently astringent parameters, Reverie is an exhibition about continuity and hope.

© 2011 Mario Naves

Originally published in the June 14, 2011 edition of City Arts.

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