Monday, April 13, 2015

Seeing is Believing

Corners Gallery, Hanshaw Road, Ithaca, NY

When you are in Ithaca, New York, one stops to see the gorges of course, but I also want to see what is in the galleries on a cold grey Saturday, so we all drive up Hanshaw Road to the Corners Gallery to look in on a new show of large paintings by Amy Cheatle, who once was one of our students in the School of Art at R.I.T.

Amy Cheatle at Corners Gallery

Amy was then, and still is an abstractionist, but she is more than that - there is a real fascination with dry matte surfaces that may include paints and plaster and other media like charcoal and clay.  Amy pulls you into her process; you have to look at these paintings a long time to try and understand how they got to look that way.  These paintings are first about texture and then there are incidents that happen where the surface of the paint is cut into, or brushed over with a wash of color.  The effect of these paintings is very open like some of Robert Motherwell's, and her palette of colors is arid and desert-like, with one or two exceptions.  There is a semi-figurative painting on black, and another in a rust red that stand out because of their color contrasts.

At the Herbert F. Johnson Art Museum

Down the hill on the campus of Cornell University, we have a quick look around at the Herbert F. Johnson Art Museum where they are in the midst of an academic journey through their collections highlighted by a show of plaster casts of old sculptural icons ( Venus de Milo for example ).  In the old days, art students were allowed to make copies on paper of these plaster casts - to practice their drawing skills before they were allowed in to confront the live figure models in class.  I remember that every art school and museum had these casts to study, and then around 1970 the institutions began to send these sculptures down to the dungeon.  Here, at Cornell, we are in the midst of the re-evaluation in this show called: "Cast and Present".

Margaret Bourke-White

On the lower level of the Johnson Museum there is an engaging show of photos by Margaret Bourke-White.  In the middle of the 20th Century she was always with her camera looking at the huiman condition, whether it was at the site of a flood, above the city in an airplane, or in front of world leaders and common people.  

Margaret Bourke-White at The Johnson Museum

Margaret Bourke-White had a heart, but she was also held suspect in her comings and goings by Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee.  She and other left wing artists such as Stuart Davis, and Rockwell Kent belonged to the American Artists' Congress and they were busy fighting discrimination and supporting state funding for the arts.

Margaret Bourke-White

This did not stop her from becoming well known for her images that frequently graced the cover of Life Magazine, she also served as a war correspondent in the 1940's; some of the photos in this exhibition focus on war atrocities at concentration camps.  One of her themes that she photographed so eloquently was the burst of big industry during the 20th Century and these photos are among her gems.

Margaret Bourke-White for Life Magazine

Down the hall in the Kress Study Gallery I found some extraordinary Australian painters with abstract works that really had a visceral impact.  Doreen Reid Nakamara created a very engaging acrylic on linen ( 2009 ) with closely spaced diagonal lines made of little dots of paint.  This art is obsessive, and you wonder how the artist can stay in this frame of mind to create this work that has such a physically disorienting effect.

In the Kress Study Gallery
Herbert F. Johnson Museum

"This is no less curious" is another show that has a very academic point of view now at the Johnson Museum.  Here, the etchings of Enrique Chagoya creates a moving homage to the Spanish master painter and printmaker - Goya - and then moves on to take in a wide assortment of works on paper and other notable objects from the Johnson Museum collections.  This kind of inquiry into subject matter and social concerns has an intellectual anchor and comments often on the strange and unusual paths that some artists take in their life's work.  

Yasuo Kuniyoshi

I found an apt image in "Charade" ( casein on hardboard, 1948 ) seen above - a modestly scaled work from Yasuo Kuniyoshi.  The wall label says that image may allude to the various guises that Kuniyoshi had to take on to survive in the U.S. during the war years.

I think that this show ( "This is no less curious" ) would probably make a better book to read, than here as an exhibition.  I could just focus on a few of the objects - out for viewing - before I had to move on, even though I may learn something on the go.