Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lady Gala Midsummer

Sunday, July 11: Last night's Midsummer Party at the Parrish Art Museum was a glorious mixture of art, cocktails, fashion and did I say fashion? It was fun and spectacular, and the people watching did not disappoint. And, while events like this are typically not the best circumstance for looking at art, the current show Rackstraw Downes: Onsite Paintings, 1972-2008 was a treat to behold. In fact, it may be the most effective installation this museum has ever mounted -- Downes's panoramic paintings of urban landscape and architecture seemed to wrestle the difficult design of Atterbury's 19th century building into relative silence -- not an easy thing to do. The paintings, mostly envisioned as if through a fisheye lens, warp latitude and longitude into dizzying vistas of curved lines and torqued rectangles. The perspectival drama here throws off visual acuity and in the process Downes seems to establish new ground rules for seeing. After some 35 years of mining this subject, his mastery of it is somewhat legendary.

Rackstraw Downes has homes in New York and Texas, and the visual incidents he depicts in his paintings are typical of the  kind that take place in the vast netherworld that connects these two locations. In places where visual opulence is limited to row houses and two-point perspective, Downes locates a kind of roadside majesty that exists above and below the horizon line. It's arresting, in some ways. Wearying in others. In this minimalist terrain devoid of even the slightest seductions, the rewards are strictly about artistry. Downes is a work horse, and his approach to painting is precise, rigorous, painstaking. Like a modern day plein aire artist, he paints not in front of a snapshot, but in front of the bus depots, factories, underpasses and scaffolding that are his subjects. And then, with a sort of depression era work ethic, Downes methodically covers his territory. Like Giorgio Morandi with whom he shares both a palette and an unerring focus, Downes has claimed a good part of the landscape for his own.

Back to the party...the Parrish is in a mood to celebrate these days because next week they break ground in Water Mill on the much ballyhooed, slightly truncated, $25 million dollar Herzog and de Meuron longhouse that will be the new Parrish Art Museum. Last night's honorees were the "Lady Gala" art patron/philanthropist, Beth Rudin DeWoody and the painter, Ross Bleckner, two individuals that, come the proverbial history of the Hamptons will have their own chapter headings. And I suppose they should. 

As for the party, it was great.                                                                           JMG
Left: Artist Jack Youngerman
and photographer John Jonas Gruen,
whose show, Facing the Artist
at the Whitney Museum of American 
Art is on view through August 8.
                                              Right: Parrish sky 

                                                                                           Rock on Parrish

1 comment:

Beth McNeill said...

I just recently visited the Rackstraw Downes exhibit and truly enjoyed it. I agree and feel that it is a very effective installation. You described the work beautifully, well said.
I enjoy your perspective and the commentary on all of your recent posts. Please keep me updated.
Beth McNeill