Walk past the edgy group show in the front room of Schroeder Romero & Shredder, and you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s another multiartist exhibition in the back. Here are abstractions, doodles, illustrations, representational paintings, and just about everything in between. That Jean Hélion (1904-1987) created them all speaks to the range of this influential French-American artist.
Jean Hélion, Equilibre (Oil on canvas 44 7/8 x 57 7/8 inches, 1936)
Mr. Hélion was often out of step with the styles of the day. He was abstract in the 1930s, representational in the 1950s. Now these shifts demonstrate his independence of vision. This compact survey, a joint effort of the gallery and Deborah Rosenthal, lets us see the connections between wide-ranging works. The sculptural shapes of “Abstraction” (1939) reappear in the wrinkled bed sheets and folded arms of “Nu Accoudé” (1949)—an exquisite example of the artist’s representational abilities.
Mr. Hélion drew “from daily experience as well as from culture, from the experience of others,” as he once told the artist George L.K. Morris. He excelled in his powers of observation, even if the execution did not always equal the vision (as in the overcooked “Remake” from 1983).
Mr. Hélion lived an impressive life. After being captured as a French soldier in 1940, he spent two years as a POW before escaping from a Nazi prison ship. Ms. Rosenthal has written the foreword to a reissue of his book about this ordeal. A bestseller when published in 1943, “They Shall Not Have Me” is a manifesto of freedom from an artist who refused to stand still or look away.
Jean Hélion: ‘Five Decades’
Schroeder Romero & Shredder
531 W. 26th St., (212) 630-0722
Through June 30
--adapted from The Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2012