On ViewDavid Nolan Gallery
September 8–October 22, 2022
Vintage exhibition posters from the galleries of Jill Kornblee, Martha Jackson, Eleanore Saidenberg, and Eleanor Ward, adorn the stairwell. Frayed corners and creases in the black and white flyer for Louise Bourgeois at Stable Gallery (Ward’s outpost) and the solid red announcement for Jim Dine at Martha Jackson adds a touch of nostalgia to a thoughtfully organized “greatest hits” show. Curators Damon Brandt and Valentina Branchini are staking a claim in the pedigree of Madison Avenue itself as an incubator of revolutionary art of the sixties, and more importantly presenting women gallerists as dynamos of culture at that time.
Each of the four gallery founders is represented by seven to ten artists, so for a historical exhibition in a medium-sized commercial gallery, the depth is reasonable, and the sample set is circumspect, allowing the viewer to get a sense of what each gallerist represented: we can see their different approaches; what risks they took, and what aesthetic sensibilities they embraced. All of the artists in the exhibition have achieved household name status by now, but are there any outliers? Oh yes. There is a lovely small Paul Thek lampooning the overt machismo of Lyndon B. Johnson, entitled Tribute to LBJ (1967); a lemon yellow triangle with three framed roundels displaying flaccid cocks festooned with dead flies. Bob Thompson’s Odalisque (1960), plays with composition with a honey-colored nude woman whose out-stretched arm reaches precipitously off-canvas and seems to hang her body in a disarming position straddling both our space and hers. Two little Rosalyn Drexler paintings, Hooker (1963) and Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health (1967) also toy with composition, positioning figures and profiles against intimidating and dark backgrounds, commenting on guilty pleasures.
The personalities of each gallerist and their respective venues are starkly evident.Saidenberg presented Europeans, featuring Klee, Dubuffet, and Picasso. A Julio González ink and wash drawing Étude Pour Homme Cactus (1939), wherein an angular crisp geometric form sprouts disturbing prickles, and a fleshy pink watercolor Corps de Dame (1950) by Dubuffet stuck out. Jill Kornblee is represented by particularly graphic works, with the exception of an untitled 1969 Dan Flavin corner piece, with the aforementioned Drexler paintings and subtle and diaphanous Joe Goode Cloud Drawing (1968), and a diagrammatic Ground Drawing (1968) of numbered edges, by Alex Hay. Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery is represented by a selection of mostly pop-like artists like Warhol, Stankiewicz, and Katz. Two heavily cross-hatched drawings by Robert Indiana The American Eat, and The American Eat: New York (both 1962) have a muddy presence that shifts Indiana’s classic clean text into a messy zone almost mimicking grave rubbings. Similarly messy is an almost fecal Louise Bourgeois (an exception to the pop) LAIR (1963) a dark gray cast latex coil whose name betrays a kinship to the artist’s spiders. The bulk of the work in the exhibition comes from the Martha Jackson Gallery whose tastes seem to range across expressionistic painting and sculpture. Lee Bontecou’s Untitled (1964) is soot and graphite on paper and depicts a biomorphic mass of floating holes, resembling a swirling dissolving wasp’s nest. Jim Dine’s Car Crash (1959–60) is a textured and mostly monochromatic canvas, with folds of glistening Payne’s grey fabric heightened with small light cruciform shapes. Jackson also presented the abstract expressionist lineage, there is a stunning Hans Hofmann painting Astral Image No. 1 (1947), a black oil sketch on blank canvas then outlined by a rose background. A bright Grace Hartigan collage—Articulations (1968)—of anatomical studies of a skeleton then ripped up and rearranged, is a technique that Hofmann would have taught Hartigan.
One can also see the exchange of ideas and symbols amongst the artists here—Rosalyn Drexler clearly influenced or was influenced by Alex Katz; the teacher-student relationship between Hofmann and Hartigan; and the resonance between Dine and Robert Rauschenberg. Mad Women accomplishes what a historical group exhibition of a specific time period should—it shows influences, affinities, and intersections. As the gallery statement itself bemoans, it would have been nice to expand the exhibition—it could be twice or three times the size and show the more offbeat selections of Gertrude Stein, Marian Willard, or Paula Cooper.