Tag Archives: Alexandre Gallery

Anne Arnold (1925-2014)

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Anne Arnold in her New York studio, circa 1971; courtesy of Alexandre Gallery

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The sculptor Anne Arnold died on June 20, 2014 at the age of 89. The following review originally appeared in the May 17, 2012 edition of City Arts.

The sculptures of Anne Arnold, on display at Alexandre Gallery, are so masterful—so pointed and witty, economically configured and nuanced—that you can’t help but wonder: Why has it been twenty-four years since this artist was last graced with a solo exhibition?

Read the catalogue accompanying Anne Arnold: Sculpture from Four Decades and you’ll get an idea. Both veteran curator Chris Crosman and critic John Yau make a point of Arnold’s “singular position in American sculpture”—that is to say, how the work sits firmly aside the run of –isms that typify the usual telling of post-war American art. You know the routine: Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Minimalism, Conceptualism, Post-Modernism, etc., etc. and blah, blah, blah. What to do with an artist whose vision touches lightly, if at all, on these blue-chip precedents and, instead, goes its own blessed way?

You hope that the Alexandre show will dismantle “preconceptions about what ‘important’ art means” and that it “broadens our sense of history, progress in art, and what we consider modern.” The sophistication of Arnold’s meditations on the animal kingdom—dogs are the specialty, but her empathy and know-how extend to pigs, rabbits, cats and hippos—will be plain to anyone with the eye to see it. And there’s the rub: Arnold’s achievement is predicated on the visual and not on extra-aesthetic rationales or, as Crosman has it, the “self-consciously ‘radical’”.

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But Arnold’s art is radical—radically humane. Only a temperament in tune with sensibilities outside of her own—in fact, outside of her own species—could contrive personages as true and soulful as these. Don’t be fooled by the work’s accessibility and charm. It’s a sculptor of stringent gifts and focus that could pull off pieces like Ohno (Skunk) (1974-75) or Gretchen (Dachshund) (1978) without devolving into a cloying, folksy mannerism.

Which isn’t to say Arnold’s art doesn’t benefit from being accessible and charming. Viewers who don’t take instantaneous delight upon encountering Arnold’s work should check for a pulse—or a sense of humor. Delight is deepened upon realizing how seamlessly Arnold absorbs a cross-historical range of inspiration—from early dynastic Egypt and the Aztec Empire to American “primitives” and Russian Constructivism. But it is in direct experience, both in the barnyard and without, that Arnold’s art finds its locus and generates its abundant pleasures.

© 2012 Mario Naves

 

Unlikely and Eccentric: The Art of Tom Uttech

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Tom Uttech, Kikinowijiwed (2011-2012), oil on linen, 32-1/2″ x 36-1/2″; courtesy Alexandre Gallery

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The following review was originally published in the March 1, 2004 edition of The New York Observer and is posted here on the occasion of Tom Uttech: New Paintings at Alexandre Gallery (February 23-March 30, 2013).

The paintings of Tom Uttech at Alexandre are steadfastly rooted in the local. He depicts panoramic scenes of densely wooded forests populated–at times absurdly overrun–by fauna. The forests are part of a protected wilderness area in Ontario, but the macro geography is less important to Mr. Uttech than his embrace of the particular: There’s no place he’d rather be.

He paints with the precision of a naturalist. We’re never in doubt that these often encyclopedic pictures are scientifically correct. The same goes for the depiction of light: Whether painting the sparest of rainbows or the northern lights, Mr. Uttech is true to the drama and sweep of the specific moment. Yet the paintings have been orchestrated with a decidedly unnatural theatrical flair. The animals loitering on the scene are acutely aware of themselves as objects of observation. At times, they look out at us resentfully, as if our presence were an encroachment on their territory. (Is there an eco-political moral buried in the pictures? The only animal not pictured is man.)

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Tom Uttech, Mamakadjidgan (2011-2012), oil on linen, 91″ x 103″; courtesy Alexandre Gallery

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The gulf between viewer and image is unbridgeable, the distance emphasized by Mr. Uttech’s touch, which keeps us at bay. And there’s a mysterious recurring motif, also distancing: a lone black bear with a curious demeanor, standing on its hind legs. It’s too close to being a cute gimmick–and after a couple of cameos, it’s an annoyance. Not cute at all–in fact, arresting–is Awassabang (2003), which depicts the uniform migration of innumerable species of birds, all heading resolutely stage right.

Imagine pictures painted by the love child of Corot, John Frederick Kensett, John James Audubon, René Magritte and Jackson Pollock, and you’ll have some idea of Mr. Uttech’s unlikely and eccentric sensibility.

© 2004 Mario Naves

Anne Arnold at Alexandre Gallery

Anne Arnold, Ohno (Skunk) (1974-75), acrylic on polyester coated Dynel over wooden armature, 25″ high; courtesy Alexandre Gallery

* * *

The sculptures of Anne Arnold, on display at Alexandre Gallery, are so masterful—so pointed and witty, economically configured and nuanced—that you can’t help but wonder: Why has it been twenty-four years since this artist was last graced with a solo exhibition?

Read the catalogue accompanying Anne Arnold: Sculpture from Four Decades and you’ll get an idea. Both veteran curator Chris Crosman and critic John Yau make a point of Arnold’s “singular position in American sculpture”—that is to say, how the work sits firmly aside the run of –isms that typify the usual telling of post-war American art. You know the routine: Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Minimalism, Conceptualism, Post-Modernism, etc., etc. and blah, blah, blah. What to do with an artist whose vision touches lightly, if at all, on these blue-chip precedents and, instead, goes its own blessed way?

You hope that the Alexandre show will dismantle “preconceptions about what ‘important’ art means” and that it “broadens our sense of history, progress in art, and what we consider modern.” The sophistication of Arnold’s meditations on the animal kingdom—dogs are the specialty, but her empathy and know-how extend to pigs, rabbits, cats and hippos—will be plain to anyone with the eye to see it. And there’s the rub: Arnold’s achievement is predicated on the visual and not on extra-aesthetic rationales or, as Crosman has it, the “self-consciously ‘radical’”.

Anne Arnold, Nimble (Sheep) (1973), polyester resin coated Dynel over wooden armature, 18-1/2″ high; courtesy Alexandre Gallery

* * *

But Arnold’s art is radical—radically humane. Only a temperament in tune with sensibilities outside of her own—in fact, outside of her own species—could contrive personages as true and soulful as these. Don’t be fooled by the work’s accessibility and charm. It’s a sculptor of stringent gifts and focus that could pull off pieces like Ohno (Skunk) (1974-75) or Gretchen (Dachshund) (1978) without devolving into a cloying, folksy mannerism.

Which isn’t to say Arnold’s art doesn’t benefit from being accessible and charming. Viewers who don’t take instantaneous delight upon encountering Arnold’s work should check for a pulse—or a sense of humor. Delight is deepened upon realizing how seamlessly Arnold absorbs a cross-historical range of inspiration—from early dynastic Egypt and the Aztec Empire to American “primitives” and Russian Constructivism. But it is in direct experience, both in the barnyard and without, that Arnold’s art finds its locus and generates its abundant pleasures.

© 2012 Mario Naves

This article originally appeared in the May 17, 2012 online edition of City Arts.

Brett Bigbee at Alexandre Gallery

Brett Bigbee, Abby (2005-2010), oil on linen, 70-1/32″ x 53-7/8″; courtesy Alexandre Gallery

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What did Brett Bigbee think of a recent headline announcing “Painting is Back” and its accompanying article, in which his current show at Alexandre Gallery was featured?

Given how deeply Bigbee is immersed in the verities of 15th-century Netherlandish painting and early American folk art, he’s likely to have shrugged it off, wondering just where it is painting might be returning from. This is, after all, an artist for whom Hans Memling isn’t a dusty historical figure but a contemporary—and the competition. The notion that the art form could be anywhere but here and now is antithetical to a temperament that favors the long reach over the quick fix.

Bigbee is a paint handler and draftsman of infinite patience and consummate skill; his paintings often take years to complete. Working from observation, he transforms an intimate scope of reference—family, foodstuffs and the natural world—into mesmerizing displays of technical virtuosity. Bigbee coaxes ghostly, surreptitiously stylized portraits from dense fields of graphite. With oil paint he brings greater tangibility to form, rendering each object in his purview with crystalline attention.

Brett Bigbee, Study for James (2000), graphite on paper, 9-1/2″ x 11″; courtesy Alexandre Gallery

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Pegging Bigbee as a realist is simultaneously accurate and a misnomer. Meticulous craftsmanship does more than limn appearances. Fidelity to verisimilitude generates otherworldly, if not quite surrealist, portent. Bigbee endows people, objects and places with unnatural clarity and quietude. When a picture concerns itself with a girl on the verge of pubescence—as in Abby (2005–2010), a portrait of heart-stopping austerity—time is rendered both immovable and forever tenuous. There’s never been a painting quite like it.

Bigbee comes close to achieving something similar in Joe and James (2002–2003), a painting that suffers—not fatally, mind you, but enough that it nags—from theatricality; artifice, though understated, undercuts the dour antagonism of the boys named in the title. He falls altogether short with Portrait of Ann (2004–2008), if only because art historical precedent—in this case, Leonardo’s sfumato—is made blatant. Bigbee is at his best when he doesn’t tip his hand.

But these are the gaffes of an artist who more than earns our respect and, yes, amazement. Painting may not be eternal, but its scope is greater than any headline can encompass. Bigbee proves it each time he puts brush to canvas.

© 2011 Mario Naves

Originally published in the November 29, 2011 edition of City Arts.