Published: January 26, 2011
January may be the cruelest month for people with serious art gallery habits. It snows, it freezes, it daunts. Still, this week brings alternatives. The Winter Antiques Show is in full swing at the Park Avenue Armory, and armchair art lovers can log onto the VIP Art Fair — which bills itself as the world’s first online version — although apparently its system is so taxed that digital browsing has been at times a challenge.
Lowell Libson Ltd., London
Monroe Warshaw, via Alexander Gallery
Jill Newhouse Gallery
A third possibility is Master Drawings New York 2011, tailor made for those who prefer actual art galleries and art in the flesh, but need motivation in inclement weather. This annual confab, now in its fifth year, consists of some two dozen drawing exhibitions mounted in galleries mostly on or near Madison Avenue, and can be seen through Saturday (or a bit longer in some cases).
Organized by both local and European dealers, most of whom usually work privately, these shows amount to a geographically dispersed art fair while offering total immersion in the most intimate of art mediums, presented in some of the city’s coziest gallery spaces. European material from late Renaissance to early Modern predominates, although there are many earlier examples, as well as detours into American and postwar works as well as the odd oil study or painting. The quality is up and down; some shows are overall a bit sleepier than last year, but each has at least a few treasures the likes of which you don’t often see. (A complete list of shows is available at masterdrawingsinnewyork.com.)
For example, among much else of interest in the 19th-century European works at James McKinnon, a London dealer camped out at Clinton Howells Antiques at 150 East 72nd Street, you will encounter six small pencil portraits of soldiers made by Jean-Baptiste Wicar (1762-1834), a student of Ingres, during Napoleon’s Italian campaign.
Monroe Warshaw, a New York private dealer, has squeezed his display into a small, street-level space at the Alexander Gallery (942 Madison Avenue) where you may boggle at a very rare, elaborate study for a painting of a banquet scene from around 1578 by a Belgian artist named Anthoni Bays. Teeming with nearly 40 figures and intimating more than one vanishing point, it depicts the visit of a papal diplomat to the estate of Jacob Hannibal of Hohenem, in western Austria. With the help of a European curator Mr. Warshaw has located the painting — to which Bays added 14 more figures —in a municipal museum in Policka, Czech Republic, and included a photograph here.
Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art’s excellent display of 20th-century South American drawings at 23 East 73rd Street includes a fantastic if anomalous drawing by Frida Kahlo titled “The True Tease” (1946). A dense, extended doodle, it embeds a lexicon of Kahlo motifs — a hand, veins, some eyes, several breasts — in a geodesic constellation fraught with stars and spirals that seem straight out of late Kandinsky. Across the street, where the New York dealer Marianne Elrick-Manley has a show of drawings by 20th-century sculptors at Gallery Schlesinger (24 East 73rd Street), the same geodesic structure, greatly pared down, appears in a 1969 drawing by the Venezuelan artist Gego.
At Adler & Conkright Fine Art (24 East 71st Street) one of the main attractions among the mainly Russian and German early-20th-century works is “Bahnsteig,” a superb collage-drawing that shows Robert Michel (1897-1983) working brilliantly with ideas more familiar in the art of Hannah Hoch, John Heartfield and Max Ernst. A tribute to frenetic urban life, the work is dominated by an architectonic monster flanked by, among other things, two small color images of a man smoking — probably from cigar labels or lottery tickets — that suggest vacation-theme billboards.
This year’s Master Drawings shows resemble a pocketful of lenses, each offering its own magnified close-up of some aspect of drawings infinite variety. The perspectives range from narrow to broad according to style, period and nationality.
For highly focused I recommend the marvelous display of all things Dutch and Flemish (and the occasional German) that Mireille Mosler has assembled in her gallery at 35 East 67th Street, which features several dozen botanical watercolors of tulips clustered around an enticing facsimile of a cabinet of wonders. The works that Mia N. Weiner, has brought to L’Antiquaire & the Connoisseur (36 East 73rd Street) shine especially in the areas of French and Italian old masters, while Les Enluminures, the Paris dealer at C.G. Boerner (downstairs from Mary-Anne Martin at 23 East 73rd Street) only has eyes for miniatures and illuminated manuscripts. The star of its stunning exhibition of mostly 16th-century French material is a book of hours once owned by Francis I of France.
Lowell Libson, ensconced at Mitchell-Innes & Nash (1018 Madison Avenue, at 78th Street), has a nearly all-English presentation that includes several lively landscapes by Thomas Gainsborough and a small but majestic little study, “The Cedars of Lebanon” by Edward Lear, best known as the probable inventor of the limerick.
Next door at Graham Arader(1016 Madison Avenue, at 78th Street), José de la Mano, a Madrid dealer, appends a series of illustrations of the Spanish Civil War to several centuries worth of Spanish drawings. Commissioned in the late 1930s by none other than Gen. Francisco Franco and appropriately Social Realist in style, they are fascinating documents, full of muscular, heroic looking figures, even though they depict the misdeeds of the Republican opposition.
Andrew Wyld, a London dealerwho concentrates on English material and is visiting at Dickinson (19 East 66th Street), has several more alluring works by Lear, including an oil study of a sunny Sicilian shoreline that is a marvel of exquisite free-handedness. Also here: a small, eye-catching pencil portrait of a man appraising the world from beneath a wide-brimmed hat by George Romney.
At Shepherd & Derom (58 East 79th Street), Margot Gordon offers a judicious eclecticism that ranges from a sprightly ink drawing of two putti by Raphael to a strangely Symbolist-looking work in charcoal, chalk and ink from 1984-85 by the Arte Povera artist Giuseppe Penone. Crispian Riley-Smith, a British dealer sharing the space with Ms. Gordon, runs a slightly tighter ship, expanding beyond his focus on 17th and 18th-century European drawings, to include 19th-century Dutch drawings. Jan van Ravenswaay’s finely detailed farmyard scene, from 1822, pays tribute to a long national tradition but still achieves a life of its own.
In some instances the passion for drawings of all kinds seems to be the guiding principle. At Betty Krulik Fine Art (15 East 71st Street), Richard A. Berman’s material encompases both a mid-16th century study for “The Virgin Annunciate” by Andrea Meldolla (called Schiavone) so strangely mannered and modern looking it might almost be by Balthus, and “Stein 1964,” by Donald Evans (1945-1977), an American artist who specialized in delicate renderings of imaginary stamps. Those in this work commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Gertrude Stein’s “Tender Buttons.” Each stamp quotes a complete poem.
A similar omnivorousness prevails at Richard L. Feigen (34 East 69th Street), where a strikingly varied handful of drawings by Jean Dubuffet mingle with much earlier works, including a wonderfully charged ink and watercolor rendering of St. Jerome praying in the wilderness, with lion, by the 16th-century Flemish artist Jan Wierix. And at David Tunick (19 East 66th Street) the extremes include a large landscape capriccio from 1701 by Hendrik Soukens that is every bit as busy as Mr. Warshaw’s Anthoni Bays banquet scene and a spare circus act, in wiry ink lines, reminiscent of Calder but actually by Chagall.
The offerings from Nissman, Abromson, of Brookline, Mass., who have taken over one floor at Jill Newhouse (4 East 81st Street), run the gamut from 16th- to 20th-century Italian works, including a dark, especially taut factory scene from the 1940s by Mario Sironi. Upstairs Ms. Newhouse is concentrating on the decades around 1900, with a spectacular drawing of a girl spreading her too-knowing hands across a book, by Lovis Corinth, and a strikingly modern study for a menu by Degas. A large landscape in distemper by Vuillard may encourage a kinder view of his late work.
Elaborating one medium in such random yet rich detail, Master Drawings New York shakes up, reshuffles and expands art history, never a bad thing.