Dialogues Across Time
Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl
525 West 24th st 4th floor, New York, NY
October 6, 2022 through January 14, 2023
By STEPHEN WOZNIAK, November 2022
Eternal themes in fine art remind us that perpetual concerns in life are often one and the same; whether our woes, wills and weaknesses in Dante’s harrowing hell or the hope and splendor poetically depicted in Monet’s favored Parc Monceau location landscapes. Artists, of course, can’t circumvent this dynamic between art and life, nor would we, as audiences, want it any other way. But for the consummate professional, who must draw from as much history and tested technique in their chosen creative field as the life right before them, it’s critical to understand their medium and interests featured in the work of the deep, as well as recent, past. The current edition exhibition, Dialogues Across Time, on view in Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl through January 14, 2023, shows us many key overlaps between works that span the ages from such far-and-near artists as Albrecht Dürer and Susan Rothenberg to Francesco Fontana and Vija Celmins. Some of these are conscious nods made by the artists featured in the show, though, more often, by the celebrated art historian and curator Susan Dackerman, who assembled this substantial collection of sixty works throughout the gallery.
Let’s start with the fundamentals of form. This exhibition gives us a line-drawn image of the classic Vitruvian Man made famous by Leonardo da Vinci in 1490, but here created by Dürer, as the 16th century woodcut print from his posthumously-published book, Vier Bücher von Menschlicher Proportion, which includes informative text and measurements, as well as details about scale and proportions – both ideal and unusual – for artists to learn and use when rendering the human figure. Contemporary artist Jonathan Borofsky indeed follows suit with several color-dense lithographs in the print series Male/Female from 2000, which feature overlapping imagery of almost-silhouetted female and male figures, limbs outstretched, centered on the page. They do something interesting: create an activated, vibrating, abstract third figure along the points of their union, perhaps giving birth to cooperative efforts and acceptance of any ostensible differences between the two.
Another pairing of the past and present arises between 15th century astronomer Francesco Fontana and artist Vija Celmins. Fontana was among the very first to see and record Mars and other nearby planets in our solar system with his own hand-constructed telescopes. In fact, he traced the projected outlines of the observable planets – as close to a photo as you could get at the time – to help make a collection of print images in the book Novae Coelestium, Terrestriumque Rerum Observations, which translates as, “The New Heavens as Observed from Earth.” His etching, featured in the show, looks as if it is the moon to our planet. It is similar to the top half of the stacked mezzotint/etching created by contemporary artist Vija Celmins based on a space agency photo of one of Jupiter’s eighty moons atop a reverse image of a constellation. Both are essentially black and white and either gridded by paper folds, in the case of Fontana, or the classic Ts, Ls and Xs used as reference marks in popular NASA shots featured in Celmins’ work. Both present blunt, yet eerie and elegant heavenly bodies touched just enough by each artist to collect the vastness of the subjects into an accessible image worthy of a deep philosophical – or even a cursory – review.
The moody portrait commission works of Rembrandt van Rijn are many and varied in the painted form for which he is famous among Dutch Masters. Rembrandt similarly handled editioned etchings and drypoint prints, such as Jan Lutma, Goldsmith from 1656. In this modest seven-inch high print, we see a bearded Lutma, seated next to a hammer and punch on a nearby side table, gripping his work – a gold candlestick. It’s clear that these items help indicate Lutma’s trade, but also gave Rembrandt more intricate objects to depict the mysterious deep shades and tones he is known to explore in his work. Other artists in Dialogues present tools and media of their trade, as well. Philip Guston’s 1-color lithograph, Studio Forms from 1980, shows us a small mountain range of the backs of stretched art canvases. In Guston’s Easel, another litho of the era, we see a painting on an easel that features a distinctly Sisyphean stone on a hill, and what looks to be a piece of club-like wood with several large nails driven into it, alluding to a sort of death knell, sacrifice or even an abstract crucifixion. The tools shown in these and other pieces serve to remind us about the real toil and necessary rigors of studio life, not just the desired outcome of a work or the celebration of a depicted subject.
I took a careful look at the works in the show over the course of a few hours and was lucky to see a few, small, abstract Richard Serra prints laid out on flat files for a buyer. Included was an approximately 2’x2’ square edition of the deepest matte black, featuring an almost stucco-like texture on paper, entitled Elevational Weight I. It was a reminder of the tactile impression that prints and other media editions can make upon viewers. Multiples don’t just reproduce another of an artist’s work into a flat format, ready for framing and sale. Far from it. They are truly dynamic, distinct works unto themselves. As artist Robert Motherwell indicated, “In printmaking, I essentially use the same process as in painting with one important exception: to try, with sensitivity to the medium, to emphasize what printing can do best – better than, say, painting, collaging, watercolor, drawing or whatever. Otherwise, the artist expresses the same vision in graphics that he or she does in their other work.”
I was surprised by the omission of early Chinese book pages from the 9th century, which essentially ignited the advent of reproducible printing or maybe a few prime examples of activist signs created during key points of social and legal history. Perhaps, they are a hard find or didn’t add up to the themes, respectively, created for Dialogues.
Ultimately, Dialogues Across Time is a well-made exhibition, astutely curated and beautifully hung in the space that now makes up the Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl galleries. If you have a chance to see this show, do it, and also check out Print Center New York’s Visual Record: The Materiality of Sound in Print on the ground floor of the same building where Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl lived for over ten years. It’s a pertinent pairing that reminds viewers about the remarkable power of editioned fine art in its many striking and unexpected formats connected through history.
The artists included in Dialogues Across Time are:
Rembrandt van Rijn
Dialogues Across Time is on view in Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl from October 6, 2022 – January 14, 2023 in New York City. WM
Stephen Wozniak is a visual artist, writer, and actor based in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited in the Bradbury Art Museum, Cameron Art Museum, Leo Castelli Gallery, and Lincoln Center. He has performed principal roles on Star Trek: Enterprise, NCIS: Los Angeles, and the double Emmy Award-nominated Time Machine: Beyond the Da Vinci Code. He co-hosted the performing arts series Center Stage on KXLU radio in Los Angeles and guest hosts Art World: The Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art podcast in New York City. He earned a B.F.A. from Maryland Institute College of Art and attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. To learn more, go to: www.stephenwozniakart.com and www.stephenwozniak.com. Follow Stephen on Instagram at @stephenwozniakart and @thestephenwozniak.view all articles from this author