The New York Times


When Words Become A Means of Reaching A Different Plane

March 28, 1999


‘Women’s Work’

Nese Alpan Gallery, 1499 Old Northern Boulevard, Roslyn. Through April 9. 484-7238.

Anyone expecting to find the gallery filled with needlepoint or decorated china may be startled by this group show, which has nothing in common with such traditional female pursuits. The 11 artists are represented by work that resists typecasting by the sex of its makers.

Many of the pieces are small, trading on the intimacy of scale to force close scrutiny. Eleanor Schimmel’s encaustic paintings, for example, feature richly encrusted lozenges that hover mysteriously in ambiguous space.

Their texture and mood recall the landscapes of Albert Pinkham Ryder, but without Ryder’s explicit symbolism. There are similar overtones in Paulette Singer’s “Little Black” and “Little Red,” in which looming figurelike shapes suggest ominous presences emerging from an otherworldly environment.

In a painting that would fit well into the “Wordsmiths” show in Islip, Hester Simpson uses a penmanship exercise to demonstrate how writing is really a type of abstraction. The letter e becomes a series of connected loops that scroll endlessly across the tiny canvas and seem to rise up through its surface, remaining readable even as they are transformed into pure linear rhythm.

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A Wave of Abstraction in Painting and Sculpture

September 5, 1999


‘Summer Selections 1999’

Nese Alpan Gallery, 1499 Old Northern Boulevard, Roslyn. Through Sept. 26. 484-7238.

Artists who seek to stretch perception form the core of this invitational group exhibition, the first in what is to be an annual event.

Some, like Nola Zirin, introduce depth-of-field shifts in their paintings. Others create ambiguities, nuances or patterned schemes that generate some sort of visual reorientation.

Most, but not all, examples are abstract. Roy Nicholson’s garden-inspired “12 Months, No. 2 (Lifelines),” a pulsating swirl of expressive paint, conveys a feeling of nature’s spirituality and bridges the gap between direct sensation and abstraction. Using vinelike ribbons of color in a circular, almost cosmic way, Mr. Nicholson opens avenues of speculation about interconnectedness, natural phenomena and the universe.

Gently compelling linear configurations by Chris Coffin and Susan Kornblum incorporate wax. Blending subtle translucency and a sense of palpable substance, the medium can contribute much to the building of a visually engaging surface. By incorporating horizontal strips of rough dune fence into “Fire Island Fathoms,” then covering the powerful design with a wax cloud, Mr. Coffin encourages Conceptual readings of the work and also gives it the punch of blurred references to reality and illusion.

Hester Simpson’s mesmerizing schematic canvases, polished and sophisticated, are some of the show’s most successful pieces. “Loop-de-Loop,” with its regularized but slightly tipsy rows of thin dark loops over a softly mottled yellow-gray field, establishes engaging vibrations. “Front Page News,” seemingly a tightly strung grid, intrigues with its unpredictable small interruptions to the regimentation and suggests a metaphorical comment on real-life issues.

Misty, puffy forms gradually emerge in D. J. Kim’s all-over abstraction. Its evocative qualities fit well with the show’s general sensibility, although the approach requires a larger field to make a convincing impact.

Surface nuances help the exhibition’s one sculpture, Mr. Coffin’s “Us,” seem at home. A rope-tied vertical bundle of textured driftwood, it seems to be a metaphor for close-knit humans.

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Going Exploring on Three Different Trails

December 12, 1999


‘The Grid’

Nese Alpan Gallery, 1499 Old Northern Boulevard, Roslyn. To Saturday. (516) 484-7238.

All six artists in this small but rewarding show pursue the grid format as part of a 1990s search for urgency, rather than a continuation of Minimalist concerns. As might be expected, there is ample evidence of modules, systems, rhythms and patterns, but there is also much use of unpredictable pushing, morphing, fading and other types of restless movement that generates optical energy.

A sense of loose, dripping pigment makes Nancy Olivier’s “Interior Motive” the show’s most overtly assertive work. Shifting luminosity triggers the constant surface action in Susan Kornblum’s heavily textured pale works and in Kristen Mara Brown’s beeswax assemblages.

Regularized drilled perforations both create and pierce the schematics in Keith Gamache’s wood surfaces, making the process part of the subject and introducing an important conceptual dimension to the exhibition. Duncan Johnson also imposes an order using wood in his wall piece, “Step,” a work that relies on the unpredictability of grain and tone for its lively presence.

Grids can trigger sensual vibrations, as demonstrated in several handsome paintings by Hester Simpson. The broad expanses of tightly detailed linear designs over a mottled color field have a meditative quality. When these mesmerizing rhythms suddenly alter slightly, the break has the forceful impact of a ritual being challenged.

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Exploring Imagery in Patchwork Forms

January 18, 1998


Patchworks: Contemporary Interpretations of the Quilt Form

Islip Art Museum, 50 Irish Lane, East Islip. Through Jan. 25. 224-5402.

Traditional quilts are utilitarian items that often have artistic dimensions, in either the quilting itself — the patterned stitchery that holds them together — or the pieced and appliqued fabric designs called patchwork. Feminists have adopted the patchwork quilt as a kind of talisman, a symbol of creativity long unacknowledged because it was seen as “women’s work.”

Viewed objectively as a form for structuring imagery and unifying compositional elements, patchwork in particular offers useful models for contemporary artists, abstract and representational alike, regardless of their sex. As it happens, the 22 whose work is featured in this group show are all women, but one can think of just as many male artists who are indebted to patchwork precedents.

Anyone who uses a grid, for example, might be said to be adopting a common quilt format, even when the result is not at all like a traditional bedcovering. Here, the grids most remote from a patchwork source are in Hester Simpson’s untitled panel paintings, with threaded surfaces that seem to hover over richly nuanced tonal veils like nets cast across translucent pools.

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For 12 Artists, Maps Fill a Role as Raw Material

Sunday, October 18, 1992


Making and interpreting maps are far more subtle and subjective than one might think, because maps appear to present objective data. But as Jonathan Swift observed, speculation has often filled the gaps left by incomplete information and faulty reckoning.

This impulse is the point of departure for “Site Seeing,” the exhibition at the Islip Art Museum in East Islip. The show features the work of 12 artists who use maps as raw material.

Organized by the museum curator, Karen Shaw, whose own art work is often based on similar concerns, the show aims, in her words, “to communicate a sense of place, the relationship of here to there, as well as a sense of wonder, anxiety and imagination.”

Burt Hansen, a World War II pilot and aerial photographer, paints the earth as a target for bombardment. His missiles attack their objectives like bizarre snakes or birds of prey homing in for the kill. If the works sound gruesome, they are anything but. Despite their grim subject matter, Mr. Hasen’s canvases are sensuous and almost playful, as if toying with the notion of war as a game. Death and destruction are entirely absent; what remains is a combination of strategy and fantasy.

Perry Steindel reinterprets city street plans as he wishes them to be seen. Based on actual maps, his delicate weblike drawings define imaginary locales, for example “Where the National Anthem Contains a Stanza on Flossing.” Thus a few ink lines suggest the political hub of a country that cares about its citizens’ dental health, presumably indicating a commitment to humanitarian values.

An even more reductive and allusive approach is seen in Lenore Mallen’s “Flight of KAL 007,” a pair of pastel drawings based on the disputed route of the Korean Airlines plane shot down for supposedly entering Soviet air space. A friend of the artist was among those killed, and the tragedy prompted Ms. Malen to investigate discrepancies in the plane’s flight path. Her images use fuzzy deliberately imprecise radar maps as metaphors for the politically motivated distortions that surrounded the incident. Unfortunately, in contrast to the strong and telling point that they seek to make, the images themselves are rather insipid.

The continuing and growing conflict between humankind and the rest of nature is a longstanding subject for Helen Mayer and Newton Harrison, a husband-and-wife team represented by segments of their “Lagoon cycle,” a 12-year project that included performances and publications. The Harrisons’ work is part documentation, part meditation and part warning. As presented here, their message is too abbreviated to have its full impact.

There is, however, an effective shift from the general to the specific — from the action of volcanoes along vast stretches of coastline to the impact of mechanization on a single water hole in Sri Lanka — that focuses attention on the interrelatedness of natural- and human-generated phenomena.

Lelia Daw’s montage technique combines satellite photographs and other high-tech mapping devices in fractured landscapes that look like disaster sites. Like Mr. Hasen, Ms. Daw leaves out the wrecked buildings and the corpses, but her scenes are no less cataclysmic for the lack of identifiable victims. The casualty is the land itself, which, as one title insists, “Doesn’t Stand a Chance” against the damming and the draining. The elegant refinement of her images belies the harshness of her indictment.

Julienne Saslaw’s paintings are displayed on the floor so that viewers can stand over them and look down, as if from a high-flying plane. without being literal, she offers canyons and valleys as painterly interpretations of natural forms offset by undulating hills and slopes. Those attractive homages to the earth’s inherent beauty are appropriately tinged with mystery.

There is also a mysterious quality in Michael Gordon’s schematic cityscapes, which emphasize the planes and masses of the urban environment. His small paintings are grouped on a wall like variations on a theme, and indeed they span a 15-year period. They run the gamut from concrete to cryptic, and from distant to microscopic.

The sea gives up its dead in an untitled painting by Guillermo Kuitca, who pictures them floating in the treacherous waters of the Gulf of Bothnia off the coast of Finland. This surreal apparition encapsulates the fear and awe inspired by the uncharted sea as it encroaches on the stability of the carefully mapped land. In his smaller works, Mr. Kuitca suggests that even the safety and protection of houses are an illusion, for their rooms can be claustrophobic prisons for the spirit.

The map is an agent of movement control in Robert Bordo’s gridded panels, in which vehicles are guided and manipulated by the structures that enclose them. Planes and cars are held in check by the rigors of navigation, which force them to stay on course or risk being lost or destroyed.

Personal geography is the subject of works by Hester Simpson and Roger Welch. Ms. Simpson’s “Landmark” is a kind of interior atlas, its huge pages hung out to dry after having been torn and reshaped by experience and circumstance. Instead of specific maps or charts, the artist offers a composite of events that appear at once traumatic and affirmative.

Mr. Welch’s piece is one of a series derived from interviews with elderly people who were asked to describe their hometown. Using their recollections, Mr. Welch constructed town models, which he calls “memory maps.” The one on view is of Rome, N.Y., in the 1880s, as remembered by Winifred Wakerly, who was 94 years old when Mr. Welch interviewed her in 1973. Excerpts from the dialogue accompany the map, and together they vividly illustrate the human dimension of geography, as well as the continuum between past and present.

The exhibition will remain on view through Nov.22. The museum, at 50 Irish Lane, is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. and Sundays from 2 to 4:30. It will be closed on Nov. 11.

Ellis Island and Beyond

June 23, 1991


THOUGH it was closed as an institution in 1954, Ellis Island has not gone away but has, rather, become a tourist attraction. And while the extraordinary faces documented by Lewis Hine seem to have disappeared from the population, the memories of the experience have lived on unto the present generation.

For almost a decade, nostalgia for the steerage days has been fanned by Klaus Schnitzer, who teaches in the fine arts department of Montclair State College and is himself an immigrant (from Germany, in the post-Ellis Island era). His latest effort is “The Ellis Island Artifact Project” at the Montclair Art Museum here.

Since 1982, Mr. Schnitzer has been taking his photography students to the human entrepot, what’s left of it, getting them to focus, as the press release says, on the “mystery of memory and time.” Some of the results appeared at the Montclair and Jersey City Museums in 1984; others are in a recently published Aperture book, “Ellis Island: Echoes From a Nation’s Past,” as well as in the current display in the island’s museum that was organized by Brian Feeney, the resident National Park Service photographer and a former student of Mr. Schnitzer’s.

But the Montclair show is different. For one thing, its subject is not Ellis Island alone but “social concerns” and “antisocial acts,” too, and for another it includes works done jointly by Mr. Schnitzer and Robert Sennhauser, who also teaches at Montclair State. Add the miscellany of photographs, prints, paintings and objects produced by a group of 24, called the Ellis Island Artifact Collaborators, and you have a large, rambling exhibition, of which only a small portion is itemized in the brochure.

There are several of the familiar Schnitzer-Sennhauser images of disintegrating interiors but, as the title indicates, the photographs emphasize objects and the associations they arouse. Some are depicted in situ (the bedsteads and springs parked like bicycles in the room); others are rendered separately (a pitcher, a toolbox, a stack of plates). These black-and-whites, many of them platinum prints, are framed in groups.

When the utensils are given a functional context, they are rephotographed in color, and the result is a series of before-and-after couplings. The pitcher in black-and-white is paired with the same pitcher in color, filled with poppies and tulips; a cake pan stands empty, then reposes, fulfilled by golden muffins, on an oven door, and so on. Surrealist reconstructions include Eric Hummel’s three views of an old metal colander placed on a pile of earth. The earth is sown with seed in the first print and sprouts bright green grass in the second, only to wither away in the third.

At times, the nostalgia gets labyrinthine, as in the assemblage incorporating a pair of wings draped over a chair standing on a mat. The feathers are simulated by cutout photographs of slipper soles; the mat is made of other photographic images — a picture of a harbor tug, color reproductions of maps — repeated and arranged in decorative bands. As far as this reviewer could tell, it is the joint work of artists named Freeman and Tauscher.

Also noteworthy is Hester Simpson’s “Cuisinier,” which is coiled out of black-and-white photographs rolled into cylinders — an attractive but none too functional- looking basket.

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