By ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST December, 2019
Off the Charts, the show which is up at Manolis Projects, Miami, through Art Basel to the end of March, is that unusual phenomenon, a group show in which the group is not connected by an Ism, by a theme, or by some socio-political or generational network, but one in which work by a group of wholly unalike artists balance each other, bouncing energy to and fro. This is down to the artworks, of course, but also it’s down to the nifty way that the space has been segmented by wheeled dividers which don’t just deliver extra wall but create differently sized spaces, secular chapels. J. Steven Manolis, the artist/curator, has used these to present eight painters, three sculptors, one painter/sculptor, one photographer, a cartoonist and two jewelers as a fluid sequence of optical events.
One such invigorating collision occurs soon after entering. You are confronted by a huge Mickey Mouse with boots the size of VW bugs, the work of Bruce Helander, best-known as a master-collagist, here reworking a tabloid photograph of the first Macy’s Day Parade in 1934. Amongst the work you will see on the sidewall you will see a beach-cum-oceanscape by Hamilton Aguiar, the vivid finesse of which shocked me at first, but which became hypnotic, two Butterfly paintings in acrylic on linen by Morton Kaish, two photographs by Alex Vignoli that turn material used in book publishing into visual art.
Dog (Large), a huge balloon dog, but which lacks the signature Koonsian hypersheen, is indeed distinctly rusty, is also by Aguiar and is part of another invigorating collision, being stationed in front of one of several canvases by Jill Krutick, whose second solo museum show is currently up in Billings, Montana. This pieee, a seven by eight footer, entitled Moondance, surges like a moon-landing. It hangs alongside Rock, Bird, Scribble and Red Circle, an abstraction by the Cuba-born artist Connie Lloveras. Who might be described as the show’s first discovery.
Cuba-born, a Miami resident, Lloveras has several canvases here and she can be called a discovery in the context of this show in that she is pretty much unknown to the art world at large, but it’s a discovery of a special sort in that she has been widely collected, by Latin American collectors in particular. Her paint handling is singular in that she will paint a ground with broad, sweeping brushstrokes, working light and dark pigment together, creating surfaces that can look as if they have been produced by natural forces, like the tug of tidal water on sand or mud. She will overlay or incise these with figurative elements including letters from the alphabet, which simultaneously suggest and deny meaning, and the outlines of plump spotted birds, depicted standing not flying, like refugees from an Edward Lear sketchbook.
Lloveras also has a sculpture in the show, a powerful wood piece. There are other sculptures at the front, including two mirror gloss surgical steel pieces. These are by Ken Kelleher who can be considered a second discovery in that he has only been making art as a full-time career for a couple of years, remains a barely known name in the buzz-factory of the art world at large but has built a thriving career, including recent commissions in China, Qatar, and Surabaya, Indonesia, by way of that rising power in the art economy, Instagram. In the center space a sculpture by Miles Slater, a slender bladed abstraction in grey marble that looks ready to whizz off to the Milky Way, is positioned slapbang opposite a painting by Reid Stowe, who is the third discovery in Off The Charts, and this discovery is total.
Reid Stowe, now in his 60s, has been making art his whole life but his career – not a rarity in an artworld in a state of melt – has had an Outsider artist trajectory. Meaning his work has been a mostly private passion, while his life was devoted to a distinctly different passion, sailing. He sails a schooner, built by hand at 25, and is now the world champion long distance sailor, after spending 1152 days out of sight of land. The art has grown out of the life.
The title of one piece tells the story of its making. The Whale GPS Chart Painting. 1964-2019, mixes abstraction and assemblages, along with collaged diaristic material, such as the chart used on his first solitary crossing of the Atlantic in 1973 and the self-portrait made at the Equator. Two central collage elements are charts recording what he calls GPS art. He had always seen elements of performance in his voyages but it was thinking about such past art as Richard Long’s walks that made him realise he could use his schooner as an art-making tool. A chart records The Odyssey of the Sea Turtle, a 1998 voyage in the South Atlantic outlining a turtle.. His second GPS piece, The Whale, required a two month voyage which generated an image 5,000 miles in circumference and his 1,152 day sail is a presence in the form of weather reports, handwritten notes and a jaunty tabloid headline plus photo.
A year ago Stowe began making black-and-white paintings. There are several here. Indeed black-and-white work is a consistent thread throughout Off the Charts. Ron Burkhardt, who has two color abstractions here, is also showing Manhattan Noir WPB, a hard-edged black-and-white, which is flanked on either side by one of Manolis’s most striking works, Qatari Sonata #2 and Flamingo, the second being a seductive canvas generated by the artist’s learning that eating shrimp in polluted water has altered the color of the plumage of the birds since they were painted in the early 1800s by Audubon. Another blacker-than-black piece, Hamilton Aguiar’s Optical contrives to turn a black monochrome of not particularly thickly painted oil on canvas into nine deep and shimmering folds and it is positioned in front of one of his sculptures, a 12 foot shark in gold-leafed fiberglass.
These are alongside a space almost entirely given over to black-and-white, which include six Manolis diptychs, an 84”x144” triptych, and Metamorphosis, which appears both as a painting, and a caged sculpture by Miles Slater, this itself being inspired by a 1989 New York production of the same name, starring Mikhail Baryshnikov. The sculpture is black too. I have observed a resurgence of black-and-white elsewhere in the art world and I incline to see it as a reaction against a culture drenched with unfelt, commercial color. But I may not be wholly objective here, being the cartoonist in this show. Manolis said he wanted to see if they worked blown up bigger. Do they? Not up to me to say, is it? WM
Anthony Haden-Guest is an internationally known writer and artist.
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