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Gallery Chronicle (June 2018)

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Gallery Chronicle (June 2018)

THE NEW CRITERION, June 2018

Gallery Chronicle

On “The Unbroken Line: Old and New Masters” at Robert Simon Fine Art, “Paul Resika: Geometry and the Sea” at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects and Bookstein Projects, “Marc de Montebello: Recent Work” at W. M. Brady & Co., “Sculpture 56” at 56 Bogart Street & “LES YES!” at The Storefront Project.

Stoked from dying embers, painting’s classical revival—a rediscovery and return to traditional technique—has been burning underground for decades. Last month the new masters emerged to exhibit with the old in “The Unbroken Line,” at Robert Simon Fine Art, on New York’s Upper East Side.1

One of our best Old Master dealers, Robert Simon has a history of rediscovering lost masterpieces—he’s the one who owned and helped re-identify the Salvator Mundi as a painting by Leonardo. Now working with the teachers and students of the Grand Central Atelier, the classical art school in Long Island City founded by the painter Jacob Collins, he helps us discover the next master painters. “The Unbroken Line” exhibits a selection of Old Master work alongside paintings by Collins and his current and former students, the best of whom have gone on to become the faculty of his growing school.

When it comes to revivals, living matter does not necessarily come to life from dead tissue. The thesis of “The Unbroken Line” is that a knowledge of classical painting, as it was once taught in the academies and practiced in the salons, never fully died out in the style wars of the last century. It was preserved by a handful of painters—and in the masterly work that, at least for now, continues to hang on the walls of our museums, and in galleries such as Simon’s own.

The revelation of “The Unbroken Line” is that this must be true. Or, at least, it has become true as a new generation of painters, many of them only in their thirties, breathe new life into a reviving practice. It would be a challenge for anyone to go through Simon’s survey of forty-eight works and distinguish, with total accuracy, which are from the seventeenth century and which are from the twenty-first. This is in part due to the freshness and depth of Simon’s own collection of Old Master paintings and drawings. A Performance from the Commedia dell’Arte set in a Piazza, by Gherardo Poli (b. 1676), can hang naturally alongside the wonderful drawing of Santa Maria Maggiore, by Anthony Baus (b. 1981), with an archaic street scene fancifully interposed with someone walking a bicycle.

  Will St. John , untitled,  2018 ,  Oil on linen ,  Robert Simon Fine Art.

Will St. John, untitled, 2018Oil on linen, Robert Simon Fine Art.

It is inspiring, and eye-opening, to see still lifes by Sebastian Stoskopff (b. 1597) and Joris van Son (b. 1623) living next to ones by Justin Wood (b. 1982). Portrait of a Young Man, by Simon Vouet (b. 1590), and Christ Blessing, by Vittore Carpaccio (b. ca. 1465–70), settle down inconspicuously among portraits by Collins himself (b. 1964)—one of which, called David, Collins touched up just days before the opening. Emotive figures by Rachel Li (b. 1995) and Will St. John (b. 1980) give the side-eye to a Portrait of a Boy from the Bolognese School of the seventeenth century. (I understand that St. John gave his painting a final coat of varnish once on the wall, in what Simon says was his first literal vernissage.)

Delicate portraits by Colleen Barry (b. 1981) convey a Flemish intimacy. A self-portrait by Edward Minoff (b. 1972), an accomplished painter of seascapes, radiates the classical profile of a Renaissance medallion. Just steps from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this exhibition has introduced a new field of collectors and curators to a generation of young painters; the great Frederick Ilchman, a curator at the mfa Boston and a savior of Venetian art, was on his way up just as I was heading down. The work, old and new, comprises two sides of the same coin. Robert Simon has done a good turn by bringing them both into more common currency.

Now entering his ninetieth year, the latitudinal painter Paul Resika has sailed the seven seas of artistic influence. More than sixty years ago, he embarked from the New York School and his apprenticeship with Hans Hofmann for a rendezvous with the Old Masters, on to the distant shores of De Chirico, Carrà, Sironi, and points unknown. With his latest exhibition, “Geometry and the Sea,” spread across two New York galleries last month—Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, on the Lower East Side; and Bookstein Projects, now on East Sixty-sixth Street—Resika brought home his many far-flung discoveries in angular, poetic compositions, where paint serves as both water and light.2

At Bookstein’s new uptown location, the open gallery room invited comparison of these connected compositions, all from the past three years. Among the circles and triangles, the sea and the sky, Resika finds a great range of feeling in shapes and tone. Rose Dawn (2017) crackles in a morning sun. Red Dunes, Green Sea (2016–17) bakes in a sun-scorched afternoon glow relieved by the sea water pooling into a triangle below. The yellow sun of The White Sky (2017) breaks through a damp mist, while Red Sun (De Chirico) (2017), with its vertical symmetries, conveys the meridian sun with a nod to the surrealist master. Meanwhile, Blue Night (2017) turns day to night with the coolness of moon-shade, as pyramidal forms grow ever taller in the dream-lit air.

  Paul Resika , Blue Night,  2017 ,  Oil on canvas ,  Bookstein Projects.

Paul Resika, Blue Night, 2017Oil on canvas, Bookstein Projects.

In his intimate downtown space, Steven Harvey looked to the poetry of Resika’s mysterious forms and their spare surroundings. A Quiet Romance (2017) features a circle and a shell in conversation over a field of blue. The White Moon(2017), Celadon Sea (2017), and Blue (2017) convey Resika’s interest in sensuous, mottled color. In a gallery filled with natural light—as it must be, for Resika’s colors—the illumination from the storefront window highlighted the textures of Resika’s layered surfaces. These latest paintings are often painted over older work, and the pentimenti add to the mystery of the compositions. Self-Portrait with Rag (2017) depicts Resika emerging from the color-rich mist. The great painter looks out as both an abstract vision and a concrete form.

Marc de Montebello may have a recognizable surname. Yet his descent from Jean Lannes, the First Duke of Montebello, the famous marshal of the Napoleonic Wars, should not be held against his own successes. Last month, at W. M. Brady & Co., de Montebello showed the achievement of his recent work—landscapes of diverse locations with a unifying interest in surface and depth.3

Using planes of color, de Montebello carves out sculptural space. The approach is spare and often intriguingly minimal. While certain works experiment with fog, de Montebello flourishes in the bright light of day, with direct sunlight sharpening his shapes in reflection. A room of intimate works, some of casein or oil on paper, brought to mind the spare vision of Louisa Matthíasdóttir, where a field of green might be punctuated by a mere dot of red.

  Marc de Montebello , View of Jodhpur,  2015 ,  Oil on canvas ,  W. M. Brady & Co.

Marc de Montebello, View of Jodhpur, 2015, Oil on canvasW. M. Brady & Co.

Two large canvases reveled in the rooftop geometries of Jodhpur, the “blue city” of Rajasthan, dominated by its fifteenth-century Mehrangarh fort. Yet the chromatic values of these paintings were so varied, and the effects of light so wide-ranging, that they might be mistaken for two different views—especially as they were wisely divided between the two main gallery rooms.

In the familiar light of Los Angeles, where de Montebello keeps his studio, he seems most at ease. Here he finds interest in simple rear-window walls and a series of seascapes—which is his most daring—conveying an infinity of depth with a minimum of surface detail.

The dozen or so galleries of 56 Bogart Street, in Bushwick, Brooklyn, have arguably evolved into the single best concentration of artistic venues anywhere in New York. No doubt this is due to the galleries’ proximity to one another —and their separation from everything else. In the late nineteenth century, the economist Alfred Marshall described certain places as “having ideas in the air,” where knowledge “spills over” from one person to the other. The central corridor of this one building, packed with serious galleries and the people who create them, has become the Main Street of New York’s alternative art scene.

  Julia Kunin , Green Bismuth Head,  2013 ,  Ceramic ,  Honey Ramka.

Julia Kunin, Green Bismuth Head, 2013, CeramicHoney Ramka.

Spread over six weeks, these gallerists came together to organize “Sculpture 56,” their first building-wide exhibition, with eleven venues showing various takes on contemporary sculpture.4 Highlights of this exhibition included a bespoke stack of Jersey barriers in “Noah Loesberg: Remote Barrier Storage,” at Robert Henry Contemporary (the co-director Henry Chung was an architect of the exhibition series). I also enjoyed the many examples of contemporary ceramics at Honey Ramka, where Julia Kunin’s unsettling Green Bismuth Head (2013)was my best in show. At Slag Contemporary, Dumitru Gorzo piled old two-by-fours like matchsticks into square towers. Their natural precariousness said more to me than the scumbles of paint added to their surfaces—I wonder if a more minimalist application would have had greater effect. Meanwhile Tom Butter, at Studio 10, constructed an eleven-foot-tall kinetic sculpture, where a mechanized spool of foam cord unwound from a lattice tower onto a pile on the floor. For all the elegance of its construction, I doubt the resulting forms quite justified the elaborate setup.

Spread over two floors at 56 Bogart Street, the dense, multi-gallery exhibition, much of it showing work at a high level, commanded attention. I hope it hints at collaborations to come.

  Meryl Meisler ,Mr. Katz was mugged by two kids who found him dozing in front of his TV in his living room,   1978 ,  Photograph ,  the Storefront Project.

Meryl Meisler,Mr. Katz was mugged by two kids who found him dozing in front of his TV in his living room,  1978, Photograph, the Storefront Project.

The photographer Meryl Meisler arrived in New York City in the mid-1970s. Surrounded by decadence and decay, she looked for the humanizing touch in the wreckage, the sleaze, and the schmaltz of the struggling city. Through a 1978 ceta Artist grant to photograph Jewish life for the American Jewish Congress, she turned her lens on the Lower East Side. Continuing our rediscovery of Meisler’s rich body of work, these photographs are the subject of “les yes!,” an exhibition at The Storefront Project, a gallery on Orchard Street at the heart of a neighborhood that has transformed in the four decades since Meisler captured it in black and white.5

Meisler has an eye for character. In her photographs, often shot in fifty millimeter with heavy flash, great expressions come into bloom for her welcoming lens. Bright-faced rabbis, soda jerks, and garmentos pop out of their darkened shuls, diners, and apparel stores. There are a few striking images of degradation —a drunk lying across the bleak median of Photographing on the Bowery (1977), with a second figure snapping away from the side of this captivatingly framed image. Yet, mostly, Meisler looks for the life of the street and those struggling to keep living in it. In particular she finds Morris Katz, the self-proclaimed “Mayor of Grand Street,” who appears in several images. Looking out from two black eyes, Katz describes “how he was mugged by two kids who found him dozing in front of his TV in his living room,” as one of the images is titled. Resolute and resigned, he does not let his cigar drop from his mouth or his bow tie come undone. The old neighborhood is in decline. He was there to see it through. Thankfully, in the dying light of the late 1970s, Meisler was there as well to find what could be preserved.

1 “The Unbroken Line: Old and New Masters” opened at Robert Simon Fine Art, New York, on May 11 and remains on view through June 1, 2018.

2 “Paul Resika: Geometry and the Sea” was on view at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, New York, from April 18 through May 20 and at Bookstein Projects, New York, from April 19 through May 26, 2018.

3 “Marc de Montebello: Recent Work” was on view at W. M. Brady & Co., New York, from May 9 through May 24, 2018.

4 “Sculpture 56” was on view at 56 Bogart Street, Brooklyn, from April 13 through May 27, 2018.

5 “les yes!” opened at The Storefront Project, New York, on May 3 and remains on view through June 3, 2018.

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Gallery Chronicle (May 2018)

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Gallery Chronicle (May 2018)

THE NEW CRITERION, May 2018

Gallery Chronicle

On “Jasper Johns: Something Resembling Truth” at The Broad, Los Angeles, “James Little: Slants and White Paintings” at June Kelly Gallery, “John Bradford: Hamilton, History, Lincoln and Paint” at Anna Zorina Gallery & “David Hockney: Something New in Painting (and Photography) [and even Printing]” at Pace, New York.

Jasper Johns is the minor artist with the major reputation in post-war American art. This outsized status has been the inverse of his achievement. His fame has grown just as his art has diminished, from his mid-century debut of ontological “flags” and “targets” into largely self-referential boilerplate. “I look at Johns’s career as pretty much a downhill slide from a not very high point to begin with,” Hilton Kramer once observed. Yet Johns now ranks among America’s top-selling artists. His early creations, embalmed in encaustic wax, can trade for nine figures. He nearly tops the list for most expensive living American artist at auction, second only to Jeff Koons. Just as he has turned flags and targets into “flags” and “targets,” Jasper Johns’s most notable, and bankable, creation has long been that of “Jasper Johns.”

The full extent of this self-creation will go on view in 2020 in an unprecedented, and sure to be hagiographic, two-part retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For now we have “Something Resembling Truth,” a smaller survey of some 120 works that opened at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and concludes its run at The Broad, Los Angeles—that new, private ossuary of Eli and Edythe L. Broad, the cultural pharaohs of Southern California.1

  Installation view, “Jasper Johns: ‘Something Resembling Truth’.” Photo: Pablo Enriquez

Installation view, “Jasper Johns: ‘Something Resembling Truth’.” Photo: Pablo Enriquez

Centered around the Broads’ own holdings by the artist, including a Flag from 1967, the first-floor exhibition serves as the foundation for the couple’s starry collection of contemporary art above, reached through the marrow of their gray cement building by way of a tunneling escalator. The exhibition leans heavily on Johns’s iconic early themes, with rooms full of flags, targets, and numbers—the symbols of his most valuable identity.

Whether “neo-Dada” or “proto-Pop,” Johns’s reputation came out of a turning-away from the New York School, and its intrinsic art-for-art’s-sake heroics, towards an art of the extrinsic, with work that was encoded with ready-made symbols and personal sentiment. His technical innovation was the incorporation of encaustic—in his hands, the rather clumsy introduction of beeswax mixed with pigments on a hot plate. Used in his first Flag of 1954–55—made of sewn-together bedsheets when he was twenty-four years old, and two years out of the Army—encaustic became the trademark of the brand. Applied to his paintings of flags, of targets, of maps, of numbers, the medium served as the scare quotes and embalming agent for his signs and symbols—positioning his early work in a gray zone of meaning somewhere between flag and “flag,” or five and “five.”

With a saturnine personality—a flip side to the logorrheic Robert Rauschenberg, his one-time partner in art and life—Johns was the perfect cypher for such games of identification. Working with “things the mind already knows,” Johns set out to “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.” “A picture ought to be looked at the same way you look at a radiator,” he said in an early interview. “I don’t know how to have thoughts,” he revealed more recently to TheGuardian.

This vacuity has served him well in his career, but less well in his art. In the marketplace, Johns has left the space for his promoters and investors to impute the hard meaning of cash value into his work, beginning with Leo Castelli, the trash-to-treasure dealer who went on to supply the helium for Pop. “That son-of-a-bitch, you could give him two beer cans and he could sell them,” De Kooning famously complained of the dealer. When Johns heard the remark, he bronzed two “ale cans,” and Castelli did just that.

Yet in the studio, such emptiness has been far less enriching. Since the 1980s, the ready-made symbol to which Johns has most often returned is “Jasper Johns.” From the Delphic smears of his “Catenary” paintings to his extensive visual quoting of his own greatest hits, Johns has indulged in a murky studio practice that was never all that interesting beyond the initial ideas that informed it. The series of “Seasons” from the mid-1980s contains over-wrought and under-painted self-portraits. Ventriloquist, from 1983, incorporating his green, yellow, and black flag from the late 1960s, signals a fondness for quotes of quotes of quotes ad infinitum.

Protected by a garrison of wealthy patrons, Johns, now eighty-seven, lives off the derivatives of his early ideas as the man in the high castle, secluding himself among the gentry of northwest Connecticut. One day, there may be a reckoning of a legacy that has derived only diminishing returns from initial mid-century investments. “Something Resembling Truth” is far from that tough-minded reevaluation. From someone resembling a master, exhibiting in something resembling a museum, perhaps we should expect nothing more.

  James Little , Apache,  2017 ,  Oil on stained linen ,  June Kelly Gallery .

James Little, Apache, 2017Oil on stained linenJune Kelly Gallery.

There is nothing embalmed in James Little’s use of wax. A master of the volatile medium of encaustic, Little creates living, breathing abstractions of oil and wax on canvas. Now at June Kelly Gallery, he returns to the diagonal, with interlocking stripes arranged in vertical bands.2 The forms have a dynamic, rotational quality, enhanced by an immersive sense for color. The satin-like wax surfaces, brushed clean, serve as tactile skin.

Framed by two large abstractions, Democratic Experiment (2017) and Temporary Fixation (2018), one green and one red, the exhibition is interspersed with smaller compositions. On one wall, diagonals of a similar but smaller design draw viewers in with surface variation. Raw pigment replaces oil and wax for a more aqueous finish. On the opposite wall, Little surprises with abstractions on stained linen of a very different feel. Here, white screens of paint are punctuated by ovals. The mysterious, tessellated forms act as small windows onto deeper layers of ovals and colors. Stencils? Masks? Resists? Unlike the perfected surfaces of Little’s diagonals, these roughened appearances invite speculation as to their manufacture, hinting at, but not revealing, their particular processes of creation.

  John Bradford , Publication of the Declaration,  2017 ,  Acrylic, oil on canvas ,  Anna Zorina Gallery.

John Bradford, Publication of the Declaration, 2017Acrylic, oil on canvasAnna Zorina Gallery.

It may be natural to see “Hamilton, History, Lincoln and Paint,” John Bradford’s exhibition now at Anna Zorina Gallery, in light of other recent efforts to update the American past in the idioms of the cultural present.3 In Bradford’s case, this means processing such scenes as Hamilton Chasing Benedict Arnold (2017) and Lincoln Writing the Emancipation Proclamation (2017) through the modes of expressionistic painting.

This kind of effort rises or falls on the convictions of technique. History, as passed through a modern mode, can become easily mannered, or at the very least ill-suited. Bradford plays it straight. Paint gets built up, smoothed over, roughed up, and scraped away. His scenes have the uncanny ability to come together or fall apart depending on one’s distance from the canvas. The dense crowds of Publication of Declaration (2017) up close dissolve into daubs of paint. The play of surface and depth encourages movement as history comes in and out of focus.

Drawing on some of the styles of folk and outsider art, these paintings seek to depict not just American history but also our collective memory of history. Far from anachronistic nostalgia or postmodern gloss, the paintings have something to say: that history can still be felt.

  David Hockney , Still life,  2017 ,  Oil on canvas, Pace Gallery.

David Hockney, Still life, 2017Oil on canvas, Pace Gallery.

Through his recent retrospective at Tate Britain, the Centre Pompidou, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the painter David Hockney may have surprised even his detractors with a survey that proved to be as deep as it was wide. Perhaps most surprising was the octogenarian’s innovative latest work that employed shaped canvases and enveloping perspectives. Now at Pace, Hockney continues his experiments of color, angle, and light with “David Hockney: Something New in Painting (and Photography) [and even Printing],” an exhibition that delivers on its promise(s).4

Hockney may be best known for his choice of subject matter—he is that Yorkshire son who found succor in the canyons and pools of the American West. But the question of perspective has long been an equal focus, so to speak, in his color-rich body of work. Nearly two decades ago, Hockney made a sensation with his studies into single-point perspective and his claim that the Old Masters employed lenses, mirrors, and camera-like optics in constructing their work. In his own, meanwhile, Hockney has often experimented with compositions that employ multiple perspectives. His arresting photo collages of the 1980s assembled single scenes from multiple photographs taken at different angles from the same location. Each snapshot has its own vanishing point, with the matrix of assembled images taking on an inhuman appearance—fish-eyed and bug-eyed at once.

Painting can do what the camera still cannot: assemble an image of multiple perspectives into a coherent and seamless whole. For his knockout show at Pace, Hockney draws on a wide range of influences while also offering his own perspective on the history of perspective (as well as some perspective on his own history of perspective).

Annunciation II, after Fra Angelico from “The Brass Tacks Triptych” (2017) plays off the isometric colonnades of the Quattrocento Florentine master. Grand Canyon I (2017) returns Hockney to one of his recurring subjects while also referencing the efforts of nineteenth-century painters to communicate the grand scale of the American landscape. Meanwhile, Still Life (2017), with mountains rising out of gridded surfaces in oversaturated rgb fields, seems most connected to the computerized space of today’s “Minecraft”-like games. Rounding these out are two large “photographic drawings” of the artist in his studio. Cut up, recombined, and marked up in the digital darkroom, they call to mind those photo collages from the 1980s.

Several of the canvases here are shaped in ways that cut off their lower corners. “The indentations paradoxically widen the sense of space and invite all sorts of fresh lines of sight,” Hockney writes in a text on the gallery wall. What appear as strange objects from afar help direct the eye up close to focus on the different lines of sight. The format brings to the frame the artifice of perspective while also enhancing its immersive qualities.

Painting is not always a window onto fictive space, after all—and perhaps the development of single-point perspective will prove to be the variation rather than the dominant theme of the history of art. Passing through twentieth-century modernism, Hockney’s sparkling paintings are a bridge between the panoramas of the nineteenth century and the virtual realities of the twenty-first.

1 “Jasper Johns: Something Resembling Truth” opened at The Broad, Los Angeles, on February 10 and remains on view through May 13, 2018. The exhibition was previously on view at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (September 21–December 10, 2017).

2 “James Little: Slants and White Paintings” opened at June Kelly Gallery, New York, on April 12 and remains on view through May 15, 2018.

3 “John Bradford: Hamilton, History, Lincoln and Paint” opened at Anna Zorina Gallery, New York, on March 29 and remains on view through May 5, 2018.

4 “David Hockney: Something New in Painting (and Photography) [and even Printing]” opened at Pace, New York, on April 5 and remains on view through May 12, 2018.

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Gallery Chronicle (April 2018)

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Gallery Chronicle (April 2018)

THE NEW CRITERION, April 2018

Gallery Chronicle

On “Stephen Shore” at the Museum of Modern Art, “California Landscapes: Richard Diebenkorn | Wayne Thiebaud” at Acquavella Galleries, and “Sean Scully: Wall of Light” at Mnuchin Gallery.

In the mid-1970s, Hilton Kramer took note of an inflection point in art, with painting and sculpture on the one side and photography on the other: “At a moment in our cultural life when the imperatives of formalism seem to be on the wane in the discussion, if not in the actual practice, of painting and sculpture, a vigorous restatement of the formalist position has come from a surprising quarter—from the world of photography.”

The development was curious, even “rich in irony,” as Hilton observed. Formalism, the belief that the ultimate subject of art is art itself, would seem to go against the very nature of photography. After all, photography, more than any other artistic medium, needs an exterior, something “out there” to reflect the photons that pass through its lenses and mirrors to be imprinted in recorded light. Such directness, this facility for reportage, is for many the promise of photographic technology.

Yet photography is also an art, even an alchemy, with a process of creation that is as magical and strange as oil on canvas. Since its invention, photography’s seeming simplification, which has placed point-and-shoots and now digital optics in the hands of the world, has only masked its increasing complexity.

Flush with an emerging confidence in their medium, photographers such as Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind, wrote Hilton, found ways to turn the lens on these complexities: “The kind of campaign that was once waged, and waged successfully, for abstract painting is now being waged for ‘abstract’ photography.”

For the current generation, no one has faced the challenge of creating a photography of itself quite like Stephen Shore. This photographer who came of age in the 1970s, and has tracked the medium’s radical evolution to the present day, is now the subject of an extensive and enthralling survey at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.1

  Stephen Shore, Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974, 1974, Chromogenic color print, the Museum of Modern Art.

Stephen Shore, Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974, 1974, Chromogenic color print, the Museum of Modern Art.

Stephen Shore is a textbook photographer. Which is to say, his photographs could illustrate a textbook on the medium of photography. Born in New York in 1947, his earliest work was in the darkroom, at the far end of the photographic process, developing his family’s Hawkeye Brownie negatives when he was six. He sold his first photograph to moma when he was fourteen, and had his first survey show at the Metropolitan Museum in his early twenties. Carried by a youthful curiosity and an autodidact’s sensibility, through an extensive body of work Shore has illuminated the wondrous “how” a picture is made as much as the “what” being taken.

A photographic journeyman, Shore has traveled through the widest range of camera technology, from a children’s Mick-A-Matic through a Rollei 35mm, an Arca Swiss 8-by-10, and an iPhone 5s, with stopovers at a Stereo Realist (for color 3-Dphotographs), a Grafted Crown Graphic 4-by-5, a Deardorff 8-by-10, and any number of Leicas, Nikons, Canons, Olympuses, and Hasselblads. “I’m not interested in developing a style and playing it to death,” he says. “I’ll change the medium, or I’ll go to a different camera, just to be confronted with new problems or new possibilities.”

Yet far from settling into an arid academicism, Shore has used these technological changes to look for the essence of just what photography can record. This is the takeaway of “Stephen Shore,” organized by moma’s chief curator of photography, Quentin Bajac, along with Kristen Gaylord. Working with a point-and-shoot Rollei 35mm, with its unusual bottom-mounted flash that flattens depth into layers of relief, Shore looked to the patterns of everyday materials in his early 1970s series “American Surfaces”—such as in the mesmerizing wallpaper and water fountain of Rolla, Missouri, July 1972. Working a few years later with an Arca Swiss 8-by-10—something that resembles a nineteenth-century box camera but takes a photograph of intense detail—he moved from surface to depth. Through photographs such as Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974, he made haunting images that function more like dioramas, with space you can enter into, without any particular point of focus.

Through his finely tuned sensibility for light, color, and framing, processed through various photographic equipment, Shore has captured the vibrations in visual experience—in particular, American visual experience. Through these photographs of the ordinary, he elevates life to the extraordinary, using new technology to valorize the commonplace and the everyday.

His photographic journey, which he connects to visual archeology, has taken him into the Holy Land and the humble homes of Holocaust survivors in Ukraine. And the exhibition “Stephen Shore” is far from the final statement on Stephen Shore. Through daily Instagram posts, he now perpetuates a five-decade-long project by sending his latest quotidian moments into the luminous digital cloud.

  Installation view, “California Landscapes: Richard Diebenkorn | Wayne Thiebaud” at Acquavella Galleries.

Installation view, “California Landscapes: Richard Diebenkorn | Wayne Thiebaud” at Acquavella Galleries.

Two years ago, an exhibition pairing the paintings of Richard Diebenkorn and Henri Matisse, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Baltimore Museum of Art, became the must-see show of the season. I hopped the last train to Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Station on its final weekend and was not disappointed: in a masterly way, Diebenkorn inhabited the lines and colors of Matisse’s Parisian visions to create his California abstractions.

Last month, at New York’s Acquavella Galleries, Diebenkorn was paired with another master: the nonagenarian Wayne Thiebaud.2 Best known for ice-creamy still-lifes, Thiebaud has long applied a sweetened palette to his own landscapes of California. On view at Acquavella, these confections were paired with the famous “Berkeley” and “Ocean Park” series of Diebenkorn, Thiebaud’s friend and influence, who died in 1993.

Thiebaud met Diebenkorn, two years his junior, in 1964 as they were each preparing etchings with the printmaker Kathan Brown for Crown Point Press. Diebenkorn was a leading light of the Bay Area Figurative School, switching from abstraction to figuration in a cross-border move he made more than once throughout his varied career. Thiebaud was likewise known for his now-iconic still lifes that combine the buttery textures of Giorgio Morandi with a dusting of his own confectioner’s sugar—cakes and cookies illuminated in the post-war glow of American neon. Both were consummate painters who rose above labels and movements, whether it be Ab Ex or Pop.

As with Diebenkorn and Matisse, the revelation of “California Landscapes” was how the dialogue between Diebenkorn and Thiebaud evolved through decades of engagement. And again, as with Diebenkorn and Matisse, this is a conversation that only became understandable once their works were paired together by an intelligent curator, in this case Acquavella’s Emily Crowley.

The wet, muddy sediment of Diebenkorn’s Berkeley #21 (1954) flows through the swollen river of Thiebaud’s Brown River(2002). The prismatic light of Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park #40 (1971) shines through the faceted angles of Thiebaud’s Green River Lands (1998). A shared palette and sense for composition combine in their approaches to the open landscapes of the American West, which they each show from multiple elevated and often aerial perspectives.

Thiebaud has been painting landscapes since the 1970s. The early examples at Acquavella, such as Ripley Ridge (1977) and Urban Freeways (1979), seemed most indebted to his own still lifes with their diminutive reductions of space. What changed for Thiebaud in his landscapes of the 1990s and 2000s was the incorporation of Diebenkorn’s sense for structure, with angled rays acting as both abstract lines of force and illusionistic lines of sight.

Such structure has become even more crystalline in Thiebaud’s approach to landscape in the current decade. Now ninety-seven years old, Thiebaud is a living legend of American painting. He is also painting some of the most powerful and distilled compositions of his astonishing career. Mountain Split (2011–17) cracks his canvas right in two, while Blue Mountain Bluffs (2017) depicts the fertile steppes at the end of the earth, or, at least, at the edge of California. These paintings to Diebenkorn’s landscapes to Matisse’s compositions are but a step, or two, away.

  Sean Scully , Night,  2003 ,  Oil on linen ,  Mnuchin Gallery .

Sean Scully, Night, 2003, Oil on linenMnuchin Gallery.

Sean Scully is that rara avis: the abstract painter who has flown to the heights of the vaulted empyrean of the contemporary art market. Just why may have less to do with form and more to do with the formulations of the marketplace, which favors steady output and the repetition of set compositions. Serial work removes the issue of uniqueness and its requisite connoisseurship, and therefore creates more reliable price points in the tracking of works of art as tradable commodities. Ergo: the market’s favor for Josef Albers, and for Sol LeWitt . . . and for Sean Scully.

Yet such commercial interest does not necessarily diminish the critical relevance of an artist or a particular body of work, and Sean Scully is, indeed, a fine painter. Born in Dublin in 1945, educated in England, Scully rejected the histrionics of British painting for the post-minimal abstraction of 1970s New York. Through Minimalist seriality combined with an expressionistic touch, Scully paints block-like compositions that recall the dry stone walls of the Aran Islands. Much like those mortarless walls of fieldstone, the details are in the edges, with glimmers of color and light often peeking around the stony forms.

Two exhibitions now on view allow a closer look at the melancholy beauty of these compositions at different scales. Through April 14, New York’s Mnuchin Gallery is showing several large paintings, along with smaller watercolors and pastels, from Scully’s “Wall of Light” series. Meanwhile, through May 28, the Edward Hopper House—the childhood home of the famous American painter in Nyack, New York, which now hosts contemporary programs in dialogue with its historic setting—is showing the more intimate work of Scully’s “Doric” series.3

Whether inspired by the stones of Ireland, or of Mayan ruins, or of ancient Greece (as Scully has variously claimed), all of these paintings are opus quadratum laid by the same painterly hand. What change are the colors, and the moods, of the final compositions, which can shimmer in reflected light, as in Desire or Desired (2007), or obscure a light beyond, as in Night (2003).

What connects them all is the mystery of what they refuse to show: rather than the windows of traditional illusionistic art, these paintings are walls, built up and bricking over an unknown distance beyond. The blocks may be lush passages of wet-on-wet brushwork, but their surfaces conceal rather than reveal the compositions’ greater meaning. The exhibition at Mnuchin, elegantly curated by Sukanya Rajaratnam, even includes a selection of Scully’s own photographs of Aran walls, connecting his abstract paintings to one of their source forms.

At his studio in Tappan—a former television broadcast facility that is a stone’s throw from the Hopper House in Nyack—Scully keeps another source: a work on paper from the gray middle period of Philip Guston. Following the lush abstractions of the 1950s, the 1960s were a decade of fog for Guston. In the 1970s the fog lifted to reveal the didactic figuration of hobnailed boots and Klan hoods. The revelation proved to be a sensation. Still, I have long felt that Guston’s more interesting paintings were those middle, foggy ones, which maintained their mysteries.

Scully undoubtedly shares a similar affinity. Depths are often best when left hidden.

1 “Stephen Shore” opened at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, on November 19, 2017 and remains on view through May 28, 2018.

2 “California Landscapes: Richard Diebenkorn | Wayne Thiebaud” was on view at Acquavella Galleries, New York, from February 1 through March 16, 2018.

3 “Sean Scully: Wall of Light” opened at Mnuchin Gallery, New York, on February 28 and remains on view through April 24, 2018. “Sean Scully: No Words” opened at the Edward Hopper House, Nyack, on March 9 and remains on view through May 27, 2018.

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