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Trio of exhibitions offer unique concoctions
BY STEPHANIE BUHMANN
RIDLEY HOWARD: SLOWS
Through February 25
At Leo Koenig Inc.
545 W. 23rd St. (btw. 10th & 11th Aves.)
Hours: 10am-6pm, Tues.-Sat.
Call 212-334-9255 or visit leokoenig.com
In Howard’s second solo exhibition with this gallery, he has found his stride. Comprised of small (5 x 7 inches) to medium-sized portraits, landscapes and abstractions, the installation draws the audience into a world where the hectic buzz of our metropolitan city quickly evaporates. The dim lighting provides each painting with a timeless glow — and, prompted by the exhibition title, we are encouraged to slow down.
Though Howard’s quest is embracive of influences, his concoction is unique. True, Alex Katz, Tom Wesselmann or Kazimir Malevich come to mind when perusing his visual vocabulary — Edward Hopper or 1970s Gerhard Richter can be found in the atmospheric treatment of light that initiates an overall sense of forlorn stillness. However, Howard’s absorption of 20th century classics is far from nostalgic. He simply applies his thorough knowledge of the latter to achieve sophistication. Meanwhile, it seems that Howard is as much interested in setting a mood as he is in harvesting unusual relationships between color and form. His paintings pull one from afar, but truly start to radiate when examined up close. Each work is an amalgam of intelligent compositional decisions. The subjects might be rendered with a sense of restraint — but Howard’s handling of paint, its soft touch that makes for creamy surfaces and blurry lines, allows for a glimpse of the Romantic.
“Slows” proves that Howard is one of the few artists who can work equally well in figuration and abstraction. His paintings enable us to find characteristics of the former in the latter and vice versa. His geometric shapes easily translate into flattened architectural structures seen from above, while his figures or depiction of a building can be dissected into individual abstract forms. Inspired by avant-garde filmmakers of the late 1960s/1970s, Howard stresses that the ordinary can be psychologically charged and steeped in symbolic meaning.
PAUL HEYER/VIRGINIA POUNDSTONE: “I KNOW THAT I AM AWAKE”
Through February 26
At Rachel Uffner Gallery
47 Orchard St. (btw. Grand & Hester Sts.)
Hours: 11am-6pm, Wed.-Sun.
or visit racheluffnergallery.com
In contrast, Poundstone’s sculptures exude post-conceptual cool. She works with ceramic tile, brass and steel. Her works are organized and largely geometric — except for the occasional swirls of steel, onto which she prints digital images of rhododendron. In Poundstone, we find a futuristic vision of nature. It might evoke some characteristics of the organic but its presentation is highly artificial. As a result, her works translate as iconic reminders that the world as we know it is fragile and seriously threatened. Both these artists ponder nature — but whereas Heyer provides an almost nostalgic look at the world, Poundstone presents her take with more reserve and dramatic impact.
It is in the combination of these two unlike worldviews that this installation becomes the more thought-provoking. After all, we are only truly awake if we look back, as well as well as forward.
Through February 26
At Swiss Institute
18 Wooster St. (btw. Canal & Grant Sts.)
Hours: 12-6pm, Wed.-Sun.
Call 212-925-2035 or visit swissinstitute.net
This solo presentation of the well-established and self-taught Swiss artist navigates between charm and repulsion. Small canvases (35 of them) are installed in a vast space, forcing the viewer to slowly narrow in on the subject. While coined “Landschaft’ [Landscape], Schnyder is specifically pondering the concept of home (with all its inherent ideals, threats and colors). The series dates from 1990 and 1991, and each painting offers a variation on a small house — the archetype of a domestic microcosm. His imagination is rich and he finds as much inspiration in the witch’s shack from Hansel and Gretel as he does in the abstract silhouette of a house set against an abstract and heavily impasto-ed background. Stylistically he is hard to classify. There is tongue-in-cheek humor in a scene of two dogs watching a Pluto cartoon in a kitchy living room, for example — and there is the idyllic rendition of a house snowed in and enveloped by a mysterious pine forest. There also is darkness. One composition depicts a house set in a vast landscape with smoke pouring out its chimney, forming a Swastika. Another shows a house set next to a large burning candle, dramatically stressing that all things must pass.
The startling diversity is the product of Schnyder’s dedication to a thorough investigation. He examines his subjects from all angles and works serially. For his installation at the Venice Biennale in 1993, he completed a body of work entitled “Wanderung” (“Hike”). To prepare, he hiked along a Swiss national highway from East to West and painted 119 vistas of the traffic, portraying scenic Switzerland from an unusually mundane perspective. While Schnyder’s process can be conceptual and his tone ironic, it is the sense of purity found in his hand that makes his work hard to place. He embodies the oxymoron of a naïve satirist. Despite a long and successful career — including his participation at the legendary Documenta 5 in Kassel, Schnyder has remained little known outside of Europe. This exhibition offers an excellent opportunity to brush up on an obscure visionary.