Friday, March 13, 2015

My Day at Scope and the Armory Show

Unfortunately, I only had one day to dedicate to the art fairs in New York last weekend. I decided on visiting two venues: The Armory Show (obviously) and Scope, because I know (and collect) the artist Mariana Vilafane, who was showing at Mark Hachem, Paris. I ended up spending most of the day at Scope  (while catching up with old friends),  and ended up running through the contemporary section of the Armory Show in an hour (time management is not my greatest strength).  For what it's worth, here is a brief overview of the most important things I saw at both fairs:

Scope: I was dissapointed with the overall quality at Scope - I felt Scope Miami was far more interesting. But at any fair, there are pearls to be found. Here are my personal highlights:

mini galerie of Amsterdam ( represents European artists (mostly with a street art background) who create abstract work of exceptional quality and intelligence. One collage by Dutchman Jeroen Erosie was my favorite work of the entire fair - I couldn't resist and purchased it. The multi-layered wood cut-outs of the artist team Graphic Surgery also deserve mention.

Licht Feld Gallery of Basel, Switzerland (  presented a series of attention-grabbing paintings by the German painter Peter Dauphin Genannt Muth. Combining figurative borrowings of old Japanese woodcuts with contemporary industrial imagery, they were a commentary on the Fukushima nuclear accident. These were paintings in loud colors, not to my personal taste, but noteworthy, in addition to their painterly quality, for the originality in taking on this subject (this painter definitely has his own distinct personal style).

The artist team Gentleman's Game ( uses various paper transfer techniques to create colorful, whimsical,  visually spectacular collage-like works on canvas evocative of surrealism and 19th century illustration. A real discovery! These are two artists to be watched and followed.

Galerie LeRoyer of Montreal ( presented two large pieces by Guy LeClef, each consisting of two painstakingly interwoven photographs of women - works with a real wow effect. It would have been fun to discuss their artistic merits with a group of fellow art lovers - I think opinions would have been very divided (ie did they have real depth or were they all show - I'm still wrestling with them myself).

One doesn't think of Minneapolis as a hub of contemporary art, but I highly recommend art lovers visit the site of Instinct Art Gallery (, which presented a number of quality artists at the fair, Kate Casanova being particularly noteworthy (I have a weakness for nature collages).

Finally, Mark Hachem Gallery of Paris presented the works of two exceptional artists I need to bring up: Mariana Vilafane is an Argentian artist of great imagination. She presented a series of complex spiral cutouts created with the help of an old record player - beautifully crafted work with emotional intensity. A work by the French artist Micka was, from a standpoint of both artistic level and crafsmanship, the single strongest piece in the fair -  a multi-layered glass (or plexiglass) work with a complex system of circular lines producing different color and depth effects depending on the viewing angle - think of 21st century cybernetic art evoking the spirit of Naum Gabo.

Armory Show: Again,  I ran through in an hour, but here are my quickly-gleaned personal highlights:

Ani Molnar Gallery of Budapest ( presented a series of small monochromatic abstractions evoking natural forms by Andras Ernszt. At less than $1000 each, these would have been good pieces for the beginning collector.

Bruce Silverstein of New York ( presented a series of photographs by Mishka Henner.  These were satellite photos of oil derricks that he apparently tracks down online and crops to meet his needs. The result? Stunning abstract gems that drive the debate about the state of our earth.

Susanne Vielmetter of Los Angeles ( presented a large abstract painting by Nick Aguayo, a stunning piece in orange, black and green that calls out "Here I am." It was a work that reminded me that originality is still possible using completely conventional painterly means.

Yosi Milo Gallery, New York, ( presented several strong abstractions on chromogenic paper by Marco Breuer, along with two huge Gursky-esque photos of church facades. (the gallery focuses on photography and works derived from photographs or integrating photographic processes).

I hope to have more time next year!

My Web site:


Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Note on Grete Stern

I frequently encounter the following kind of coincidence - I hear about something for the first time in my life - be it a person, a concept or an event  - and then, a few hours, or half a day later - I come across the same person or idea in a completely different context.  (I wish someone could explain to me how this happens and what kind of secret lurks behind this phenomenon). This kind of "double incidence" - of not hearing about something my entire life and then twice within hours - occurred to me yesterday with the photographer Grete Stern. (though in this case I have to admit that I had already heard about Stern a few years ago) A couple of hours after (re)discovering her surrealist photo montages in an article about a photography exhibition currently on view in Wolfsburg, Germany, I found out that MOMA will have a show dedicated to her work beginning in May.  

She had a fascinating life: A successful commercial photographer in Germany in the late 20's and early 30's (she photographed many of the rich and famous of Weimar Germany), she was forced to emigrate after Hitler's rise to power and spent most of the rest of her life in Argentinia. In addition to becoming one of the country's leading photographers (in any case, she was the most progressive photographer in the years after her arrival), she was also an activist for Indian rights. 

After viewing many of her photographs, particularly her surrealist photomontages, I decided to undertake a comparison with the equivalent photograms of Man Ray.  (ie those that feature people. As a side note: An exhibition dedicated to Ray opened just yesterday at the Phillips Collection here in Washington, DC).  I find her work to be at the same level as Ray's in terms of both inventiveness and compositional perfection. She definitely deserves greater recognition - it looks like her time as come. 

Also of interest: The following Web site features photo montages of contemporary photographers inspired by Grete Stern - there is some first rate work here!

My Web site:


Friday, February 6, 2015

Two Exciting Artists: Stephen Talasnik and Dean Byington

I've recently become acquainted with the work of two artists who, to me, cry out to be written about together and compared to each other. StephenTalasnik ( was recently featured by Marsha Mateyka, one of DC's leading art galleries. (
Dean Byington's paintings are currently on view at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center through March 15th.
Both of the artists create graphically rich, visually spectacular work. They share some similar features, but are also very different, making a comparison very compelling.
My congratulations to Marsha Mateyka for the wonderful Talasnik show in November-December. The exhibition featured both his drawings and sculptures, the latter being large elaborate constructions of match stick-sized pieces of wood. I will focus on the drawings in this discussion  (suffice to say I think they leave more to the imagination).
Talasnik's drawings look amazingly like etchings, but in fact are created with pencil and eraser. He seems to work in two basic styles, one of which I would term "biomorphic", the other "architectural." Both involve addition and subtraction: throughout the drawing process, some completed sections are erased, but left partially visible, before a new section is added on top. This technique creates a grayscale and the illusion of additional depth - which combine to create the said "etching" effect.
In the "biomorphic" drawings complex shapes wrapped in membrane-like surfaces interspersed with round holes evoke indeterminate organic forms. A great example of this is "Propeller." ( Despite the name, this large drawing, which featured prominently in the show, is a spectacular tour-de-force rendition of a kind of multi-dimensional sea shell. It was the biggest highlight of the exhibition.
The "architectural" drawings feature layer upon layer of complex lattice- and trestlework. They pull in the viewer - I felt I could have spent an hour with each piece. To me, they evoke Piranesi, and, dare I say it, the notebooks of Leonardo. I am always excited to discover artists with a fresh, original vision which nevertheless feels grounded in the past.
The big question that confronted me as I viewed this show was: Is graphic art, no matter how good, the equal of painting (of course I mean painting of the same artistic level)? Or is painting an inherently higher form of artistic expression? Is this even a relevant or important question? It's an issue I've been wrestling with for a long time, and I won't present an apodictic answer here. Needless to say, I deem Talasnik's graphic work to be of exceptional quality.
The Dean Byington exhibition covers the largest part of the American University Museum's second floor galleries. I don't know exactly how these large works are made, but I understand the process includes copying and collaging landscape and architectural elements from old engravings. The result is quite spectacular: Vast multi-tiered landscapes contain fantastic, physically impossible buildings or building-like constructions - they look like oversized engravings with Escheresque elements. While primarily black and white, some of these paintings do contain dashes of colors. There are a few pieces on a non-white, single color background, but I think these are less successful - the color only distracts from the action.
While engaging with this art, I felt the strange sensation of looking at something that was both very old and completely new - 18th century engraving meets 21st century digital technology. And I admired the great effort and craftsmanship expended to create these works. At the same time, the big question that preoccupied me here was: Is this great art, or great illustration? Can it be both? Why not? And: Can one create truly original and cutting edge art by appropriating the old in this manner? One of the joys of good art is that it always raises these kinds of fundamental questions.
As far as comparing the two artists: On the one hand: I think Byington takes Talasnik's themes of space and structure to a whole new level. In terms of the unbounded compositional complexity and visual cornucopia his work is even more exciting. On the other hand: Their work is so different in style in technique that a comparison may not be fair - while Talasnik is outmatched by Byington's show-stopping theatricality, he makes up for it with old-fashioned draughtsmanship combined with the highest level of 21st century artistic intelligence and sensibility: I think the best of Talasnik (such as "Propeller") holds its own when juxtaposed with the best of Byington.
I am grateful to have discovered these two superb artists and will follow their future artistic development. 
My Web site: 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Interesting Artists and Galleries at (E)merge Art Fair

It's been over three months since the (E)merge Art Fair here in DC, but I feel obliged to mention some interesting artists and galleries I encountered there - prior to launching this blog.

It was great to discover some first-rate Caribbean talent! Arc Magazine and NLS Art Initiative (both of Kingston) presented a group of Caribbean artists. Their real stand-out was Oneika Russell,  a young Jamaican artist who has spent a considerable amount of time in Japan. Her series of portraits of a black woman, usually largely hidden,  had great raw power and a wonderful sense of color! To view go to

Local DC Artist Nicole Salimbene represented herself with a very powerful installation - the most impressive I've anywhere here in DC in a long time!  I invite you to explore it on her site at:

I'm big fan of local DC Artist Fawna Xiao - I think she has a big future ahead of her. (full disclosure: I own her work). No gimmickry or latching on to the latest trends here: Just a gifted young artist following her own path, creating powerful, archetypal work.

The most impressive gallery I encountered at the fair was probably Salar Art Gallery of La Paz. Given the current situation in Bolivia, they've chosen the all-art-fair route. They represent a very-high quality stable of international artists and photographers with innovative, unusual work. At (E)merge, they showed but one artist, Sonia Falcone, a Bolivian living in Hong Kong (!). I invite you to look at her dazzling output here, , and to explore the work of their other artists as well.

So those were my highlights of (E)merge 2014 - I look forward to next year's edition.

My Web site:


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Miami Art Weekend: Scope and Spectrum

I'm back in cold DC after a short two-day stint in (beautiful and warm) Miami. I managed to attend two fairs, Scope and Spectrum. Here's my short overview:

In terms of overall quality, Scope was at a somewhat higher level than Spectrum (for those not in the know: Scope is one of the Miami Beach fairs, in a tent literally right on the beach. Spectrum is one of a cluster of fairs just north of downtown Miami that includes Art Miami and Context). Spectrum admits individual artists to participate, whereas Scope is only open to galleries. As always at these fairs, among vast amounts of truly awful to merely bad to mediocre work, there are always pearls to be discovered: Here are the respective highlights:
Scope: As expected, Mark Hachem's gallery (Paris) did not disappoint, presenting innovative, high-quality work by their international stable of artists. The highlight of their stand was a piece by the young Argentine artist Mariana Villafane - a wall-mounted series of interconnected circles and semicircles made of a transparent plastic, yet painted as well, which, while having both a graphic and organic feel, shattered the boundaries between painting and sculpture - stunning! This is a young artist to watch (for full disclosure: I collect her work).
Another discovery at Scope was the young Austrian artist Jochen HoellerMario Mauroner Contemporary Art Vienna presented two of his gorgeous collages, a circle of guns and a Marilyn Monroe interspersed with text - two pieces that powerfully emanated both artistic and intellectual intelligence. This artist merits further research on my part. (none of the other artists presented by Marion Mauroner came even close to his level).
Joseph Gross Gallery of New York presented several fine abstract works, which, though not innovative or breaking any new art-historical ground, stood out through their sheer quality. I am thinking in particular of two works on paper by Alison Mosshart, lead singer for the indie rock band "The Kills." She obviously has loads of artistic talent as well - it will be interesting to see how her work develops (it amazes me that someone could have such a double talent).
Galerie Magenta of Antwerp restricted itself to showing the work of a single artist, Jan Jansen. These were all pattern paintings consisting of only two colors, always shades of red, some of which were placed in antique gold frames lovingly restored by the artist. At their best (there were a couple of show stoppers), they were a reminder of the potential power of simplicity and basic organic forms, of how much can be achieved with very little (I'm still trying to decide whether those gold frames worked, the best pieces were without them).
Nunc Contemporary, also of Antwerp, exhibited landscape photographs (among others) by the British photographer Jonathan Smith. These were stunning views of a dark river meandering through a snow-white arctic landscape - they were both stark and romantic, while also evoking abstract painting. In short, they made me wish I had an unlimited budget for purchasing abstract art.
At every fair I encounter work that raises the question: "Yes, that's very cool, but is it good art?" The best example this weekend was probably the work by the Austrian Robert Schoberl, presented by Kashya Hildebrand of London. The artist specializes in painting circles on square canvasses. The perfect circle in each painting is built up over months of painstaking work with hundreds of layers of acrylic paint (so I was told). The paintings shimmer accordingly, and the color hues changes with the viewing angle. Yes, very cool - but to me, these works do not engender the emotional reaction that I expect great art to generate - they don't have mystery, and there is no sense of a hidden level of meaning here (but I would be interested in others' reactions to this artist's work).
Just before leaving the fair, I made a wonderful discovery. The American photographer Mark Hartman photographed shredded billboards he saw in Panama. What resulted were pictures of great beauty that look like abstract paintings, fantastically rich in form and color. It's hard to believe such beauty and seeming order could be the result of randomness and destruction. This is a young photographer whom the serious art and/or photography collector needs to be aware of. His work was presented by Luster Fine Art Prints of Brooklyn.
Spectrum: Thanks to Ford Fine Art of Delray Beach, a gallery specializing in modern and contemporary Latin American art, I was introduced to the work of Armando Morales (1927-2011). I have to admit I did not know of this painter - who is an underrated modern master! He was a realist painter with a unique style and vision of great expressive power - I recommend to anyone interested in art to get to know his work.
Corinna Button (represented by 33 Contemporary in Chicago) is a contemporary British artist who also resides in Chicago. She is a gifted figurative painter with an abstract slant. One of her portraits (in hues of blue) was a work of unusual beauty and power - proof that originality in portraiture is still possible.
A gallery of note was Marcano Maldonado of Miami. They feature a diverse stable of artists, ranging from (mostly) Latin America to Saudi Arabia. Two abstract paintings by Puerto Rican painter Jose Peyo Vazquez caught my attention - beautiful works that seamlessly integrated abstract marks with letters and numbers (one characteristic of many a successful painting: bringing together opposites one would think would be too different to juxtapose in one painting). I fell in love with a mixed-media-on-paper sculpture by Columbian artist Juan Gerlain, which was joyful, whimsical, humorous and just plain damn good! Also deserving mention were two striking dot-based paintings straddling the genres of landscape and abstraction by the Puerto Rican painter Romaguera.
Let's be honest: Real talent is very rare - which is why it can really bowl me over when I see it: This was the case when I first glimpsed the boxing paintings of Argentinian painter Ezequiel Rosenfeldt - think of German expressionism with a dose of George Bellowes, raw, bold, real bravura work that knocked my socks off. It made me think that once can do great work without being original - of course, a uniqueness of voice and individual style is still necessary.
So there's my take on Scope and Spectrum. I look forward to comments and feedback. You can follow me on Twitter at My Web site is: