Historical Journal

Journal Archives, Reviews

Reviews and Previews: November/December 1974

October 22, 1974
Judith Stein

A writer and curator, studied at Barnard College, and has a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Eye of the Sixties, Richard Bellamy and the Transformation of Modern Art, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016). Her curatorial projects include Red Grooms, A Retrospective, for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and The Figurative Fifties, New York School Figurative Expressionism, co-curated with Paul Schimmel. Her exhibition, I Tell My Heart: The Art of Horace Pippin, traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1995, and earned a best catalogue award from AICA/USA. Her articles, interviews and reviews have appeared in Art in America, Art News, and The New York Times Book Review, as well as on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air and Morning Edition. Among her honors is a Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant; a Pew Fellowship for literary non-fiction; and a Lannan Foundation writing residency in Marfa, Texas.

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"With superb technical facility he achieves remarkable translucency in silk screens, a medium which normally presents opaque surfaces."

Watercolor Today, 6 Sculptors in a Garden, Paintings by Louise Z. Stahl, Photography by Richard Peter Hoffman (Woodmere Art Gallery, Oct. 19-Nov. 10) If this Chestnut Hill gallery is one of those places you’ve passed numerous times but never ventured to step inside, then now is a good time to break precedent. Apart from their large 19th century collection of painting and sculpture which is periodically on view, they are presently offering four diverse shows.
In the large gallery and balcony area are the works of 11 contemporary watercolorists. The range of effects afforded by this versatile medium, once thought eminently suitable for ladies who might otherwise soil their dresses with the more indelible oils, is seen, for example, in the immaculate air brushed surfaces of Micheal Lasuchin’s monochromes. In Philip Jamison’s The Davis Farm a snowbound cluster of buildings is described with minimal structural detail and maximum use of the white paper ground.
By far the most dazzling display of imagery and technique belonged to Patricia M. San Soucie, whose semi-abstract landscape and flower studies combined loose pencil scrawls with broad, sweeping washes of off-beat color harmonies.
Sculpture was displayed in a plant-filled interior. Among the many depictions of animals were several, which like Martha Cawley’sJack Rabbit, overcame their superficial cuteness to make strong formal statements on their own. Robert Moss Vreeland handled both terra cotta and bronze with a deft assurance. His mummified bronze figures are wrapped with a crisp textured surface like a cake covered with a stiff frosting.
In a room too small for adequate spacing of visual pauses, were the colorful shaped canvas abstractions of Louise Z. Stahl. The small sketch sheets and collages were a delight to see near the more finished work.
Hoffman is represented by color photographs which accentuate the abstract underpinnings of our natural environment.
Rochelle Toner (Peale Galleries, Nov. 7­-Dec. 15) It is impossible to remain unmoved by Rochelle Toner’s strong, brooding intaglios, drawings and sculpture. The extent to which we are attracted or repelled by them is a measure of her acute controI over images which unsettle our facile understanding of the way things are.
Exquisitely rendered objects are wrenched from their normal habitats and assigned new roles and associative contexts. Her compositional instincts lean towards bi-lateral symmetry, orderly repetitions and the compartmentalization of images. Often there is a strong axial emphasis with such somatic forms as fallopian tubes or vaginal openings. In Contents Under Pressure, a partial disintegration of her structured world is underway.
The box enclosures of Toner’s sculpture give concrete form to her fondness for order and symmetry while keeping the viewer at arm’s length. We are permitted to peer at such globe-encased textures as velvet, fur, cotton and hair through the two glass sides of each carefully built wooden box. The screws which fasten each joint appear again as a motif in the prints and drawings. Transcending an initial sexual reading, they act as symbols of tension and control, securing and holding down other images.
The sling shot is another recurring theme. Leaving behind its reputation as a tool of boyish mischief, it is given a fresh feminine gender when two Y-shaped branches couple or overlap. Be prepared to spend almost as much time looking at her work as Toner took to create it.
Don Lantzy (Robert Louis Gallery, Nov. 5-26) Delicate, miniature paintings and small scale drawings quietly draw us into a semi-abstract world of elegant, multiform cacti and spiraling chambered sea shelIs.
Lantzy is a very canny painter who is intrigued by such formal issues as “framing,” and “the edge.”
In his gouache and graphite drawings he teases images out of a subtle, shifting space. These diminutive works reward the attentive viewer with the seductive sense of whispered poetry.
Dorothy K. Sloane (Wallnuts, Oct. 21Nov. 20) This collection of 40 prints entitled Celestial Collographs reveals an artistic obsession with cloud-like formations on a field of blurred color bands. Sometimes the background is white and the shapes are colored when she works variations of negative and positive relationships. An irregular network of fibers gives each print a distinct linear texture. Two works, #1 and #3, are notable in their description of graded values shifting subtly from turquoise into blue.
Humbert Howard (McCleaf Gallery, Oct. 26 thru Nov.) While this large body of Howard’s recent work reveals an expressionist’s penchant for viscous, brushy textures, blurred contours and strong colors, the content behind his depictions of scenes of the good life lacks the gutsy bite of emotional input. His intentions seem more related to an impressionist’s desire for objective visual statements of the passing scene. In Black Girl with Light Skin, the decorative image does not really fulfill the title’s promise of a subject heavy with social implications.
One finds shadows in Howard’s work of Picasso’s Harlequins, Morandi’s still-life compositions and Soutine’s paint textures. In four large gouaches the artist describes the joyful diversions of the Cattleman’s lounge. His lightened palette, floating figures and compositional use of lettering bear an uncanny resemblance to the work of the lesser known painter, Florine Stettheimer, an early 20th century modern.
Edmund Morais, Doug McDonald (Fifth Street Gallery, Wilmington) This unusually strong show combines Morais’ large acryIic paintings with McDonald’s Kor-ten steel and water sculptures. Morais’ approach to the metallic pigments on his M-80 series joins an abstract expressionist’s love for explosive paint gestures with a contemporary concern for sweeping but controlled brush work. His palette is alive with sensuous mixes of purple, bronze, silver and mauve.
McDonald is a 21 year old wunderkind, who though still an undergraduate at the University of Delaware, has evolved fully realized forms in an innovative combination of media. By means of surface tension and regulated flow, he trains water to hug projecting volumes and then to disappear within the work’s interior. The patina of dry steel ranges from suede to chocolate and provides an ying-yang contrast with the fluid, shiny water.
Bill Daley (Helen Drutt, thru Nov.) Helen Drutt’s gallery, featuring Bill Daley’s handbuilt stoneware floor pots, is serving as a showplace for some of the best contemporary work in crafts done in America. In addition to Daley’s architectonic construtions, Drutt displays a broad range of ceramic arts. Utilitarian, production pieces include the oriental styled tea sets with tubular legs and handles by Harris Deller; the celadon and luster glazed casseroles by Paula Winokur; and the zany photosilkscreened goblets by Erik Gronborg.
The funk ceramicist approaches the material with a mixture of whimsy and satire. David Gilhooly uses the metaphor of man as frog to emphasize an image of humans as gluttonous toadies. The extraordinarily delicate lizards, birds and insects by Liz Stewart transform normally repugnant designs into lusterized creatures of pure fancy. The decorated lids on Ken Vavrek’s Island Pots extrude from a blue sea base and support a fantastic variety of flora and fauna.
Others, like Daley, express the serious concerns of the vessel maker, approaching the container as a pure art form. Rudy Staffel’s work evokes a strong tactile response when indentations slit the thin translucent surface and soft vapors of color trail across it. Richard Devore’s stoneware makes optimum visual use of the shifting irregular edge of thin clay slabs, floating wistful series of smokey glazes on exteriors and interiors.
Drutt is concurrently featuring craft jewelry. Stanley Lechtzin, a pioneer in inventing techniques to unite material heretofore never joined, is represented by electro-formed torques and fibulas of copper, silver gilt, crystal and polyester resin. Toni Snyder shows pins, bracelets and rings which work the geometries of Art Deco into personal statements in lucite, gold, enamel and gems. Olaf Skoogfors approaches gold-plated silver brooches with the interests of a relief sculptor for narrow overlapping layers in space.
Roy Witlin (McCleaf, Oct. 6-20) For his first solo show in Philadelphia Witlin amassed 84 of his paintings on plexiglas, all executed within the past 10 years. Using both matte and reflective surfaces, he works the image from the back of each sheet, spraying and brushing the color or rubbing it into incised lines. This seemingly accidental effect has no intrinsic visual interest. Here, as in a few other works, Witlin’s colors can be flat and raw, gaining little by their juxtaposition.
Classic Pop: 1961-68 (Clerestorey, thru Nov.) The pantheon of pop imagery is well represented in 25 prints by Roy Lichenstein, Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselman, Jim Dine, Claus Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenburg and Larry Rivers. The works, alI of the 1960s, convey a sense of “classic” pop. The violence of Lichenstein’s comic strip battle Whaam! co-exists with the bovine idyl of Warhol’s Cow Wallpaper. The pop world is equally inhabited by thie comic strip emotion of Lichenstein’s Crying Girl, the elegaic lavender stoicism of Warhol’s Jackie, and the intransigent presence of his Campbell’s Soup Can. Culled from such popular and commercial sources as comic strips, newspapers, and advertisements, these non-commital, cool images, disengaged from their original context, confront us as strong visual emblems of our times. The pop artist appropriately recreates this imagery with hitherto largely commercial techniques, such as offset Iithography and siIkscreening.
These techniques are used with varying degrees of artful manipulation and elaboration of composition. Whereas impersonal matte inks and slightly off register printing of the cherry pink lips are sufficient vehicles for Warhol’s representation of Liz, the personal touch is an important ingredient in the rendering of Oldenburg’s Eraser and Dine’s Valentine Heart. Rauschenburg’s always engaging potpourri of ready-made images is beautifully bound together with large fancifuI brushstrokes. The more traditional nature of his creative activity is evidenced in the folio volume of XXXIV Drawings for Dante’s Inferno. He portrays the modern inferno with the pop images of urban turmoil, jet fighter planes and photos of Kennedy and Johnson.
Vincent Falsetta (Painted Bride, thru Nov.) On exhibit are 25 paintings by Falsetta, a young Tyler graduate recently returned from a year in Rome. In several he joins a constructivist vocabulary of arcs, lines and triangles reminiscent of Malevitch and late Kandinsky, with an analytical exploration of complex space and soft color. He maintains careful control over an immaculate paint surface, varying hard edged shapes and dotted lines with diffused sprayed areas. A personal shape with a delicate, cartographic edge and the squat proportions of a chess piece appear as recurrent iconography in many paintings.
Frank Duval (Vendo Nubes, thru Nov.) In this first solo exhibition Duval’s interest is predominantly figural and he explores a variety of posed bodies at rest and in motion. In some he develops a rich surface texture by layering ink, watercolor and crayon on printing paper. The fresher work is more abstract, as in Seated Giant, where black calligraphic swashes contrast boldly with the white ground.
Also on display are 4 small bronzes by Chris Newman, in which a single broad line is taken along easy curves which abruptly double back in a crisp about-face.
Spacecraft This newly established gallery for ceramics features the work of its three founders, Karen Aumann, Michael Biello and Warren Muller. All have studied at Philadelphia College of Art and favor a low fire white earthenware for a variety of whimsical lidded containers, goblets, plaques and hanging planters. Aumann’s decorative sense of humor is apparent in a black teapot with modeled orange goldfish or a ceramic assembly of fruit resembling a Carmen Miranda headdress. Starr Kazan’s clay bells and rattles, and her small round planters with a rich Fiesta ware styled glaze, make good companions for the other work.
William Crutchfield: Sage of Machine Wit (The Print Club, Oct. 4-Nov. 4) While our American culture has stimulated a strong literary tradition of ironic humorists, a parallel visual track has never materialized. This void is now being filled by the work of William Crutchfield, an artist of great wit and invention who uses a nostalgic vocabulary of antiquated planes, boats and trains to awake us to the comic and absurd aspects of our over-mechanized society.
The Americana series (1967) of hand colored lithographs, simulates the look of old wood engravings in images of untended vehicles caught in precarious circumstances. Strangely deserted covered wagons drawn into a protective circle along the rim of a mesa provoke the questions “How in the world did they get up there?” and “What happens next?” Like the cliff hanging endings to the Perils of Pauline, Crutchfield’s situations appeal to our child-like gullibility for manipulated tension and feed on our receptive capacity to willingly suspend disbelief.
In the Air, Land and Sea series (1970) he renders the inconceivable plausible. Vintage locomotives swing and slide in a playground setting and a bi-plane’s trailing smoke assumes material form and clamps a white gloved fist on one wing while the helpless pilot looks on. Another of this series gives tangible meaning to our mental image of the Iines of longitude and latitude when a clipper ship is held aloft on a highrise square of ocean.
With an uncanny flair for the incongruous he inserts a -ash window on a Romanesque spire and mounts the whole assembly on a ship’s hull in City of Troy (1972), a vessel “built in 1891 for the run between New York and Troy.” With superb technical facility he achieves remarkable translucency in silk screens, a medium which normally presents opaque surfaces. This show should touch off an art historical avalanche of admirers.
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