Thursday, July 29, 2010

“Hard Times” Exhibit

Note: Event tonight in New York City (see end of post)

“A portentous stillness hangs over America; the affluence that we thought
would last forever has been replaced with apprehension, angst and anxiety,” says Traci Fieldsted, curator of the exhibition.

Clockwise from upper left, "Artist's Mother," David Kassan, 30 x 20, oil on canvas; "Wall Poster, " Burton Silverman, 48 x 40, oil on canvas; "Homeless, " Max Ginsburg, oil on canvas, 25 x 40.

The show is called “Hard Times: An Artists’ View” (at the Salmagundi Club in New York through August 20). The subjects are homeless people, manual laborers, and street vendors.

Warren Chang’s “Fall Tilling” shows field workers toiling with hoes. A woman sits on the ground, while a man talks on his cellphone.

The fourteen artists in the group show include such veteran realists as Harvey Dinnerstein, Burton Silverman, and Max Ginsberg. According to a caption, they “weathered the drought imposed by the modern abstract art establishment.”

Max Ginsberg’s “Snapple” shows a hot dog stand with tattered umbrellas. The sign in the store behind says “CLOSING OUT INVENTORY: EVERYTHING MUST GO.”

The paintings steer clear of overt narrative, sentimental pity, or political diatribe. Unfortunately, some images look like professional models impersonating down-and-outers. And some rely a bit too heavily on photographs.

The most convincing is a street scene with African-American young people painted by Garin Baker. Mr. Baker knows the neighborhood well, because he has worked for years on the street, developed a mural program with underprivileged artists in Newburgh, NY.

Marvin Franklin (1952-2007) painted authoritative watercolors of subway riders. Franklin taught at the Art Students League, working night shifts as a track cleaner on the subway, where he was killed in a freak train accident.

The show presents a brave direction to young realist painters, something meaningful to express with their skills. It stand squarely in the nineteenth-century realist tradition of Bastien-Lepage, Kramskoi (above: "Portrait of a Peasant"), and Dagnan-Bouveret, as well as the better-known Courbet, Millet, and Van Gogh.

The images are disquieting, reminding us of the hardships faced by the bottom margin of our society. Art can make us look at things we’d normally look away from. Such subjects are not easy choices for a career-minded painter. They are often made at the expense of an automatic sale.

Tonight there will be a lecture and panel discussion at the Salmagundi Club, including Fred Ross, Vern G. Swanson, Peter Trippi, Harvey Dinnerstein, and Burton Silverman.

Panel Discussion at the Salmagundi Club in New York City TONIGHT at 7:00 p.m. with a reception following
Art Renewal Center Article about the Exhibit

Warren Chang's Website
Max Ginsberg's Website
Garin Baker, Carriage House Studios
Salmagundi Club is at 47 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10003
Hours: Monday - Friday 1:00 - 6:00 PM Weekends 1:00-5:00 PM


Dan Gurney said...

Very interesting! I think I'll visit it when I'm in NYC next week. Thanks for the tip.

Erik Bongers said...

Nice review.

Finnian Beazlie said...

I imagine that people with enough money to buy art would not want a homeless person on the wall of their living room. I commend these artists for taking the risk and telling these stories. Thanks for the review, James!

Unknown said...

Very moving images. Wow!

Kyler Dannels said...

I relate to this write-up all too much.

Wish I could be in town for the show, thanks for the exposure of this kind of work.

josembielza said...

I read your review at the same time I noticed that a spsnish comic artist recovered his life after 15 years as hobo, publishing a biographic novel.
Really interesting for the subjects and painters, recovering the tradition of artists as chroniclers of their times...

Stephen Southerland said...

Creativity is the poor man's luxury.

Erik Bongers said...

Finnian Beazlie's remark makes me think of something.
I invented two qualifications that define how sellable a work of art is.

The first one is the wallpaper index. How well does the work fit on any wallpaper? Typically, a landscape has a high wallpaper factor. It fits in any living-room.
An abstract painting with screaming colors probably will not fit on most wallpapers. However, such screaming colors may fit well in a modern living room with white painted walls.
So the wallpaper index is actual a line-index, going from classical wallpaper to modern painted walls.
The extremes of the line are good. Somewhere in the middle is bad.

The second index is the office index.
It defines how likely it is that you will see such a work behind and above the desk of a CEO. This index focuses on the content of the work rather than the colors or decorative aspects.

If we take the sample works of the exhibition that we see in this topic, it's clear that they fail for both indexes.
The colors neither scream, nor are they explicitely gentile. These works will neither fit in a classical wall or on a hypermodern wall.

For the second index, the office index. No CEO will want a portrait of a homeless person behind his desk.

So these paintings fail big time for both the decorative (wallpaper) index, as well as for the content (office) index.

Erik Bongers said...

Feel free to use my two indexes, free of charge.
They are currently not widely accepted, but rest assured, they will be benchmarks in no time.

Michael Damboldt said...

These are amazing. Thanks so much for sharing!

David Palumbo said...

Looks like a good show, impressive line-up!

To the comments about the "sellability", people who buy art have all different tastes and sensibilities. The absolute worst thing that an artist can do (in my opinion, from the point of view of keeping your soul and self-respect intact) is second guess their buyers and plan for the most potential sales when finding their vision. Some very powerful, influential, and valued paintings in art history are those that challenged their audience and took big risks.

James, FYI, you might want to clear up to the folks at TAD that these are not your paintings (for some reason they're being used in an announcement about you teaching with them)

James Gurney said...

David, thanks for letting me know. Those are definitely not my paintings. I'll add something to explain.

And I agree with you. An artist working in the gallery world has to hold true to his or her vision and not be swayed too much by sales considerations--but realistically that's very, very hard to do.

Casey Klahn said...

Those are some of my favorite artists painting right now in this show. Thanks for highlighting it.

Yes, the use of photography (I even dislike it if a painting has abstract influences of photography) is a disquieting thing now. The galleries/clubs should listen to your fair critique.