Monday, December 18, 2006

Fraenkel’s “Nothing and Everything”

Note: This exhibit is scheduled to close on 1/27/07.

Unlike a lot of galleries that specialize in photography, the Fraenkel Gallery has never felt like a photographic ghetto. The gallery is successful in connecting its aesthetic to the broader art world. To a large degree, this happens because the gallery shows a lot of work that explores abstraction, minimalism, and the conceptual. But another reason is that, occasionally, Fraenkel sponsors exhibits that incorporate work other than photography. Such is the case with the current exhibition, entitled “Nothing and Everything,” a joint project with Peter Freeman Inc., New York.

The exhibit is calm yet energizing. There are many fine works considered individually, but the show’s expansiveness comes from the cross-talk between the works that have been selected for inclusion, some familiar and some not. There are affinities and differences to explore, and these can be pursued not only within each room, but across the three rooms. You may find yourself walking back and forth a few times. I was happy that the furthermost room, so often devoted to a variety of work not connected to the main exhibition, was pulled into this exhibit. There wasn't the sense of anti-climax that usually arrives upon entering the third room.

The show includes 37 works by as many artists, so there is much more to see than I can mention here. In the first room, there is a small, early 1960s painting by Agnes Martin, which is hard to photograph. The central pattern reminds me of certain architectural facades from the same period, especially Edward Durrell Stone’s building at 2 Columbus Circle, Manhattan. On the wall adjacent to the Martin, there is a more literal example of the recessive and the reflective: one of Gerhard Richter’s recent “Glasscheibe” works, in which a pane of glass is mounted a few inches from the wall (photo above).

The back wall of this room features one of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s minimalist seascapes, “North Atlantic Ocean, Cape Breton Island”—a stunningly beautiful photograph. (Photo at top.) Another wall is devoted to one of Robert Gober’s well-known “Drains.” The artist's simple, decisive choice evokes an array of thoughts from comic to creepy (photo above).

In the second room, it is good to see one of Piero Manzoni’s “Achromes” (photo above). Across the room is a single galvanized tin shape (like a check mark) from the early career of Richard Tuttle. It commands its wall space with energy to spare. On an adjacent wall is Steve Wolfe’s 1990 homage to a sketchbook (photo below). This artist is best known for reproducing the covers of books from the curriculum of his college days.

In the back room, there is a print of the famous “Dust Breeding” photograph, a 1920 collaboration between Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. Nearby is Diane (dee-ann) Arbus’s 1960 photo of “Clouds on screen at a drive-in.” On another wall there is one of Vija Celmins’s meticulous drawings of a field of stars (photo below).

On another wall in the back room can be found Peter Hujar’s 1975 photo “Hudson River,” in which the ripples of water seem unnaturally smooth and silent. It’s a perfect example of how to bring a tired subject back to life. (Photo below, from the Fraenkel website.)

To the right of Hujar's work is a recent trompe l’oeil painting by Alex Hay: “Gray Wood.” (Photo with detail below.) This artist abandoned his successful New York career in the early Seventies for life in a remote Arizona town. He re-surfaced in 2002 with a solo show at Peter Freeman, New York. (In 2003, SFMOMA acquired his giant version of a paper airplane, from 1968. It perks me up every time I see it.)

Finally, I’ll mention an artist who remained in New York: the minimalist painter Robert Ryman. He has contributed a work (c. 1967) from his own collection, a small whitish square of painted linen that is attached to the wall with masking tape. (Photo below.)

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