On ViewAmanita Gallery
Works on Paper: 100 Years
May 18–July 2, 2023
My friends, come one, come all! The Amanita Gallery has brought the greatest show on earth to the Lower East Side! Fifty-nine works on paper by fifty-four artists: a glorious, international century. Whatever your favorite style may be, you’ll find it here in a dazzling panoply.
Looking for a fight? Leon Golub is happy to supply one in Combat 1 (1963), a large (28 by 40 inches) conte on paper of a barroom brawl, though any representation of men pounding each other to bits inevitably conjures up an ancient American icon, George Bellows’s depiction of Jack Dempsey’s victory. Prefer to channel that aggression into a marginally more socially acceptable form? Try Sara Knowland’s Hunt (2023), an expressionistic jumble of bodies in charcoal and chalk, also a large 49 by 46 inch piece, as if the frenzy of combat or the chase demanded a large format to give the rage its space.
And since hunting has long been a metaphor for unbridled lust, that violence may put you in the mood for sex: Tracey Emin (of course) makes us an offer we couldn’t possibly refuse in Fuck Me (2020) a small acrylic on paper of a female torso seen from above, legs spread against a blue background. The unique pose renders the body abstract, while the title makes the work explicit. Paul Thek, whose ballpoint pen and watercolor on paper is wittily juxtaposed to Emin’s work, is a parody needlepoint sampler, though translating Some drawings of pussies (1980) into embroidery might send the sewing circle into a tizzy. Hannah Taurins shows us the dark side of lust and violence with Body Language (2021), colored pencil on paper, by showing us a female nude knocked backward, suspended in midair, the soles of her shoes in our face.
Not enough energy for fighting or fornication? You might like some experiments in traditional draftsmanship. The painting duo of Rachel Feinstein and John Currin come to the point here. Feinstein delivers an exquisite pastel on paper, Crucified (2022), Jesus as the Man of Sorrows, and Currin offers Untitled (2021), charcoal and white chalk on prepared paper, which might be Rachel Feinstein, the Virgin Mary, or Mary Magdalene, but is a finely-wrought portrait in the style of Albrecht Dürer. Nor should we overlook a splendid Alice Neel pastel from 1943, Portrait of a Dark Haired Woman, probably a femme fatale starring in a film noir melodrama from that decade.
Virtuoso performances abound in this show. Robert Colescott’s Sands of Time I (1996) is a large, 41 by 58 inches acrylic on paper, an utterly fascinating enigma. In landscape format, it shows, above, a fiery red, vaguely cartoonish face, the sun, rising or setting over a tawny desert. Inscribed on the sandy surface, the names of various Egyptian gods—Hathor, Thoth, Anubis, Osiris—along with other quasi-Krazy Kat kitty faces labeled sad and happy. What’s it all about? Perhaps Colescott was musing on Egypt and simultaneously remembering the cartoons of his childhood. No matter, the composition delights and fascinates whatever it may mean. The same evocation of ancient monuments governs Pope.L’s Failure Drawing #934 Pretending to be Easter Island (2004), a ballpoint pen drawing on verso-printed paper. The artist reduces the solemn Easter Island heads to figures resembling mice, again the idea that so much of the space in the American imagination was shaped by the experience of cartoons before the age of the iPhone. Betty Brown’s faux-naïve Brownville, Georgia (1995) provides the link between cartoon, caricature, and high art with her schematic southern town drawn flat on a vertical space with no perspective, medieval in composition and simply endearing.
Philip Guston’s . . .Smoking and Drawing (1972–75) is the ideal capstone for the experience of this encyclopedic show. Ink on paper, modestly sized (19 by 23), it evokes one of the great collaborations of poet and visual artist, that of Philip Guston and Clark Coolidge. This work defines the concept of “work on paper,” which we inevitably link to drawing and spontaneity. But this piece transcends the impromptu by combining thought and pictorial gesture—the thought in this instance being the quotation from Coolidge included in the drawing and the gesture being Guston’s image. This is yet another evocation of a bygone era, since smoking has become a forbidden (and dangerous) pleasure, but the picture summarizes the energy that passes through this entire show. “Emotion recollected in tranquility,” that is, not an instantaneous eruption but the conscious shaping of an eruption into unforgettable images.