Volume 78 / Number 10, August 6 - 12, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since


Curated by Maureen Cavanaugh
Through August 10
31 Grand
143 Ludlow Street
(212-228-0901; 31grand.com)

Good-looking goofballs yuk it up in Michael Cavanaugh’s DVD “GOLD!!!”

‘Admirer’ calibrates the edges of accord

Fine-tuning the blur between adulation and self-definition

By Jefffrey Cypyres Wright

31 Grand… at 143 Ludlow? What’s the story here? Gallerists Heather Stephens and Meghan Bush pulled up stakes from their gallery at 31 Grand in Williamsburg and moved to LES. Staying true to their indie spirit, the two also stayed true to their roots as evidenced by keeping the original name.

The new space also kept some roots from its gritty, urban past. The wide, rough-wood floorboards are instant time machines.

Heather started the gallery with some associates in 1999. At the time, Meghan was studying printmaking at Pratt. She began an online site, studiovisit.com, which featured “interesting artists each month.” She “felt they needed a comprehensive overview,” so she provided a profile that went “from when they were kids up to right then.” This led her to curating a show at 31 Grand in 2000. She and Heather hit it off and “decided to work together.” And they work well together as almost a decade attests.

The gallery has a professed propensity for figurative work. In addition to portraits and narratives, shows have included works as diverse as an inviting teepee by Fanny Bostrom and scientifically inspired work by Jeff Wyckoff who is a cancer researchist. This summer, they asked one of their own to curate an exhibition.

“Admirer” is the perfectly bright title that artist Maureen Cavanaugh has hung this blithe summer show on. The intergenerational mix of 15 artists also includes a bona fide master: Alex Katz. And there is Ada — his wife and the lovely subject of many spare and elegant portraits. Majesty is transferred in the serenity and recessive softness of the work. A beguiling minimalism is registered in the monochromatic sweep of black hair. A pale triangle accentuates the forehead while another crowns an eyebrow. These bare details are subtle and poised for maximum clout.

Compositionally Katz engineers an ideal interaction between horizontal and vertical, by extending the arm out from under the resting head. Bright sun on a striped shirt abuts an abrupt shadow with pitched economy. Katz always does the most with the least – everything extraneous is excised. Ada’s penetrating gaze from 1981 looks through time and straight at you.

The balancing act of admiration and plagiarism is part of the subtext in this show. Cavanaugh studied with Katz and has kept up with him. Her own work is figurative portraiture with an abbreviation that is similar to her mentor’s. Yet where Katz’s line is chiseled and clean, Cavanaugh’s is tenuous and sinuous. In “Embrace” a skinny couple floats in front of a red glow that is held back by green and blue borders. The simple elements unify aspects of abstraction and representation.

Even simpler (and more attractive) was “Black Hat.” Only a curmudgeon would deny the lyric lilt of this young lady with her red hair, framed by a black dress and black hat.

In a departure from painting, Katie McCory’s DVD imagery creates pleasant associations by parsing the referents and signifiers. We look at waves, penguins, stripes and pastel portraits. They roll by with aerial grace. Pretty music adds atmosphere. Passively detached yet compelling voices present poetic punches. “I woke up with the word kiss on my neck” and “The architecture bites into the sky.”

“Gold,” another DVD by Michael Cavanaugh is like an old black and white cowboy movie. Using a hand drawn backdrop, the artist isolates his attractive characters as they interact inanely. For all the fun, a silent interrogator seems to ask the viewer such questions as: “What is fun, as opposed to what is puerile. And is puerilism actually a virtue?” Maybe send-ups are the most sincere form of adulation.

The largest piece in the show at six by seven feet, is a foray into the popular trend of using anything but paint to create an image. The large double-headed “Phoenix Rising” by Carolyn Salas (courtesy of Priska C. Juschka Fine Art) is crafted from cardboard and assorted fabrics with highlights of pink and turquoise yarn. Reminiscent of a weaving or a “god’s eye” the work culls associations from domestic and peaceful endeavors. A homemade feel undercuts the evocation of ghostly battle standards and imperial escutcheons.

Brad Kahlhamer’s urban wall sprite has a spiritual ancestor in the Hopi kachina. Whimsical appendages like bells and frayed rope erupt from a solid core figure. Insistent eyes impishly defy you from an exaggeratedly stylistic mask. This homage to a distant and remote culture reflects the aims of this show — to mark your influences as you define yourself.

Kahlhamer (courtesy of Deitch Projects) may have done the most to bridge abstract and figurative in this show with his two oil paintings. In a small portrait, Kahlhamer hit a high note with a fading visage deserting into the background.

The larger painting recalled work by Ford Crull and read as a primeval landscape or grotto dotted with disintegrating letters. Earthy tones of sienna, green and ecru were slathered on with a knife. The word “figure” emerged from the rough and scumbled surface, compounding the tension between abstract and figurative. In this show, the twain have met.

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