Per Kirkeby: Paintings and Bronzes from the 1980s at Michael Werner Gallery, Upper East Side, NYC, 28 February through 5 May 2018

Per Kirkeby is an artist, a poet, a maker of cosmogonic maps.  Walking into the exhibit of 1980’s paintings and bronzes at the Michael Werner Gallery is being transported into a world of lost relics.  Unchartered lands set up shop in your psyche.  Underlying structures organize an undecipherable language that speaks loudly and persistently.  Layered marks crash, collide and build.  A symphony climaxes as it disintegrates.

"Herbstbaum III (Autumn Tree III),” 1985, is the first painting to insist on attention.  Two steles hold court in the foreground of a mystical forest by the side of the river.  A few marks suggest this spacious surrounding outside the picture frame.  The yellow totem stands erect while disintegrating, it’s unflappable partner solid in thick spackled strokes of brilliant light blue. The title suggests a portrait of a tree, the painting a signpost to another world.

In “Untitled,” 1981, a landscape becomes a world becomes a language of mystery.  Charcoal marks render the construction, layer upon layer, then falter, losing their momentum.  Deep bluish greens turn into dark umbers, thick slabs of white take the limelight and then bow to the surrounding darkness.  Nearby layers of scrawls like underbrush, rise and fall, thick and thin, awaiting their moment in the dim, diffused light.  The secrets of the universe are revealed and then gone.  Memory has disintegrated in erased marks. 

The bronzes are slabs that once marked sacred territories, forlorn yet stoic on their isolated pedestals.  The heaviness of their material seems like knights in armor.  Only when their forms are transported into the paintings in rich purples and greens and black blues do they become fluid.   Animated and butting against each other, they are more expressive in brushstrokes and plays of light.  

While Kirkeby, 79, began his career under the influence of Fluxus, Cubism and Pop Art, his early expeditions as a geologist are the impetus for these 1980s works.  His underlying knowledge of stratification and sedimentation curates the orchestra of layers and motion.  Outside current art movements, Kirkeby feels unique in this contemporary world; yet in the larger context of Danish art, the lineage to Edvard Munch, Asger Jorn, and the artists from their Golden Age are relevant and substantial in their subdued lighting and fluidity.  What makes this show remarkable and timeless is Kirkeby’s foraging for an inner truth with clues from the outside world.  In an interview with Tom Van de Voorde for Bozar Literature in 2012, Kirkeby says, “I have often had the feeling that there are moments when, with the aid of my own paint, I really see the world in all its reality.”

 Per Kirkeby "Untitled", 1981 Oil on canvas 78 3/4 x 94 1/2 inches at the Michael Werner Gallery

Per Kirkeby
"Untitled", 1981
Oil on canvas
78 3/4 x 94 1/2 inches
at the Michael Werner Gallery

"Andy Woll: Western Wear" at Denny Gallery, February 15-March 25, Lower East Side, NYC

Art review by Suzanne Unrein
Published in Delicious Line

Andy Woll's "Western Wear" at Denny Gallery is an orgy of muscular, slippery paint. The eight works on canvas and paper, inspired by Mount Wilson and the Santa Ana winds in Los Angeles, are motifs for Woll's robust dance of color, movement, and form.

In Mt. Wilson (Santa Ana II) (2017) a thin, rusted red pigment slides over a light bluish gray ground, suggesting a hint of smog. The peak is choreographed with thick, drizzly pinks, magentas, and yellows amid a fluid structure of browns and blacks.

The large abstraction, Santa Ana (2017), is a effusive, confident work, the paint let loose from a binding structure. Wind is made visual. Brushed on and scraped off, pigments slink, slide, crash, and mingle. Juicy reds and oranges counterpoint rich, brilliant blues. Bursts of yellow peek out of green mush. The undulating grays hold the piece together with a rhythmic freedom. The exhibit is a refreshing, dynamic rhapsody of intuition.

 Andy Woll Santa Ana, 2017  oil on canvas 78 x 54 inches at Denny Gallery

Andy Woll
Santa Ana, 2017
oil on canvas
78 x 54 inches
at Denny Gallery

"Leon Golub: Raw Nerve" at the Met Breuer, February 6- May 27

Review by Suzanne Unrein
Published in Delicious Line

"Leon Golub: Raw Nerve" at the Met Breuer is a selected survey of his work from 1940 to 2004. Inspired by political and pornographic photos, classical art, and mythology, Golub sources a wide variety of images to create his aggressive and timely works. Interrogators sneer. Mercenaries torture. Good ol' boys posture with cruel authority. Pummeled on and scraped off, the paint mimics the crudeness it depicts with a visceral impact.

While known for his enormous paintings of political violence, Golub created later works that offer a despairing, sublime beauty. Small oilstick drawings of sex workers beckon the viewer as they fade in palimpsestic marks of bright red and blue. Bite Your Tongue (2001), an apocalyptic landscape, is deftly painted with large brushstrokes. Golub portrays the dog and decapitated head using subdued hues. A colorful banner to the left offsets the somber mood, announcing "Loyalty Discipline Renewal," a warning sign about our collective mortality.

 Leon Golub "Bite Your Tongue", 2001 at the Met Breuer

Leon Golub
"Bite Your Tongue", 2001
at the Met Breuer