Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Celebrating Centennial Of Krasner In a Show Of Her Art

Paintings made by Lee Krasner after she and her husband, Jackson Pollock, moved out to the East End from Manhattan in 1945 are the subject of a wonderful exhibition at the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, in East Hampton. The show celebrates the centenary of Krasner’s birth, in October 1908, as well as the 20th anniversary of the Pollock-Krasner House as a museum.

Skip to next paragraph IN HER REALM Top, “Self-Portrait” (circa 1929) and “Shellflower” (1947), bottom, both works by Lee Krasner.

After Krasner’s move, she thrived as an artist in her new environment. Within a few months of taking up residence in the country, she made her first all-over abstractions, which she later referred to as the “Little Image” series for reasons that are not clear; the artist never explained it. The current show, organized by Helen A. Harrison, director of the Pollock-Krasner House, is the first to focus on this important moment in her career.

Krasner’s early abstractions are pure joy. Spontaneous and emotional — hallmarks of good Expressionist painting — their richly patterned, impasto surfaces recall mosaics or stained-glass windows. Other paintings possess a calligraphic complexity, with a density of hieroglyphic forms, while still others suggest sensitivity to the beach environment, in particular to the changing effects of sunlight.

Krasner’s abstractions sometimes appear related to Pollock’s paintings from this period. Like Pollock, she worked with the canvas on the floor or on a table, occasionally dripping or pouring small squirts or blobs of paint onto the surface. But other paintings, made using a palette knife or brush, are Impressionistic, almost Pointillistic, in style and completely different from anything Pollock ever produced.

Krasner worked at first in the living room of the house, where the bulk of the paintings in the current show are installed. They look great in the place where they were created, surrounded by original furnishings, including a mosaic table made by Krasner in 1947 (about the same time as the first paintings) using glass and found objects. The table design and paintings share a delicate, lyrical sensibility.

Later, Krasner worked in a small upstairs room that had been Pollock’s studio before he moved his work space to a converted barn. Here Ms. Harrison has installed a self-portrait, circa 1929, on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is an accomplished picture, showing the artist, in her early 20s, in the basement of her childhood home in Brooklyn. It was probably painted with the aid of a mirror.

It is easy to understand why Ms. Harrison chose to separate this painting from the rest of the exhibition downstairs; it is so radically different in its style, reflecting the artist’s training at the conservative National Academy of Design, where she was enrolled from 1928 to 1932. But the disparity only underscores how decisive a change in Krasner’s art took place after she moved out of the city.

Krasner produced 31 documented “Little Image” paintings from 1946 to 1950, a half-dozen of which are now lost. The dozen or so of them on view here are from this period, with the earliest dating to 1947. Among them is “Shellflower” (1947), on loan from a private collection in New York City. This astonishingly beautiful painting, a dense accretion of color splotches that is kaleidoscopic in its intensity, is enough to cement her place in the first generation of Abstract Expressionists.

Equally magical is “Untitled” (1948), another painting on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Erudite yet playful, it shows off the artist’s virtuosity with the drip pouring technique that Pollock was to make famous. On loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Composition” (1949), covered with white hieroglyphic forms, is arguably one of Krasner’s best abstract paintings.

Krasner did not exhibit the series of “Little Image” paintings at the time she produced them, according to Gail Levin, author of a brief but thoughtful essay for the exhibition catalog; during the 1940s Krasner did not have regular gallery representation. She showed them on and off in the 1950s, to a positive reception, but they were then forgotten until the ’70s, when Krasner was rediscovered by the art world.

According to Ms. Levin, it was the strength of the “Little Image” paintings, including “Composition,” shown in New York in 1978, that first prompted critics to reassess Krasner’s place in the pantheon of original Abstract Expressionist painters. That it took so long for her achievements to be recognized is an embarrassment to 20th-century American criticism. Still, it is better late than never.

?Lee Krasner: Little Image Paintings, 1946-1950,? Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, 830 Springs-Fireplace Road, East Hampton, through Oct. 31. Information: (631) 324-4929 or www.pkhouse.org.

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Playful, but Pensive

You can’t help but smile while looking at the exhibition of paintings and prints by Elizabeth Murray at Stony Brook University. Her sensual work, combining grandeur in scale with a Baroque excess, inspires pure joy.
Skip to next paragraph Ellen Page Wilson/Pacewildenstein, New YorkElizabeth Murray’s “Bop” (2002-3), is on exhibit at Stony Brook University.
Fun is not quite the right word to describe these playful, zany images, for they are also pensive, the product of trial and error, the artist concocting challenging and dynamic compositions with bits of painted wood or canvas.
Ms. Murray’s art had a serious art historical purpose, at least when she first began creating it, as a series of her early three-dimensional works assembled here reveals. Back then, in the early 1980s, she was determined to break down the last remnants of the walls dividing conventional categories of art-making.
Ms. Murray (1940-2007) liked to combine colorful, cartoonish shapes and forms. Together they seem to be “jittering, exploding, jumping on or off the walls,” as the author Francine Prose writes in the exhibition catalog. The result is more than a painting, but not quite a sculpture. It also seems to have something in common with collage.
Ms. Murray’s art does not just straddle disciplines, genres and styles. Look closely and you will find that it also breaches other demarcations: between comedy and horror, emotion and reason, childhood and adulthood, the natural and the artificial. It is done in such a way that the whole is always much more than the mere sum of its parts.
Take, for example, “Bop” (2002-3), an enormous three-dimensional painting installed in the main gallery, where it fills much of a wall. Though the basis of the composition is a series of jumbled, rather mundane-looking abstract shapes in a variety of colors, together they unify into something that is marvelously mysterious and alluring. To me, the piece looks something like a street scene viewed simultaneously from oblique angles.
This quality of unification, the sense of disparate shapes and forms somehow pulling together, with the picture fragmented and unstable yet simultaneously coherent, is what I admire about Ms. Murray’s paintings. And it is not an easy thing to achieve.
A few years ago in an interview for “Art: 21,” the PBS documentary series focusing on art in the 21st century, Ms. Murray described her method as a bit like that of a safecracker: “You have got your ear up against the safe, and you are listening for the right click, for the right cylinders to drop down.”
The analogy nicely captures her intuitive mode of working. It also suggests how we might respond to the nearly 30 pieces collected here. As nonrepresentational paintings, they contain no specific narrative or purpose. They invite us rather to take interest and pleasure in color and form and unexpected visual relationships. They celebrate our being in the world.
At the same time, these works seem to reflect different physical and emotional states. Anxiety and confusion can be read into “Morning Is Breaking” (2006), with its tangle of energetic lines and abundance of vaguely recognizable yet unnamable shapes and forms.
I am not entirely sure what to make of “Kind of Blue” (2004), another giant, three-dimensional painting of oil on canvas over wood. More than in the other paintings here, the imagery in this work is fragmented, unstable and intense. It looks like the contents of a house being picked up and carried off by a tornado.
The exhibition includes a short film about Elizabeth Murray produced and directed by Kristi Zea. It is a pleasing pastiche of interviews with influential New York art world figures and footage of the artist in her studio or installing paintings for shows shortly before her death, from cancer. The film ends with her saying: “It never occurred to me I could make a success of this. I think I’ve been really lucky.”
For those who saw Ms. Murray’s 2005 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, this show is unlikely to expand or enhance understanding of the artist. It mostly covers similar ground. But for anyone who missed that show, or who has a serious interest in great art, this is the one exhibition on Long Island right now that cannot be missed.
?Elizabeth Murray,? University Art
Gallery, Staller Center for the Arts,
Stony Brook University, through
Dec. 13. Information: (631) 632-7240
or www.stallercenter.com.

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State Court Throws Out Jury Finding In Lead Case

The highest court in Rhode Island on Tuesday overturned a jury decision that would have forced three paint manufacturers to pay billions of dollars to clean up contaminated homes.

Skip to next paragraph In 2005, John McConnell argued the state’s case in Providence, R.I., as Attorney General Patrick Lynch, right, listened.

The decision by the Rhode Island Supreme Court reversed a landmark 2006 ruling that held the three companies — Sherwin-Williams, NL Industries and Millennium Holdings — liable for creating a public nuisance by making and selling lead paint more than 30 years ago, then covering up the health risks. Cleanup costs in Rhode Island had been estimated at $2.4 billion.

The court, in its 4-to-0 decision, said the lawsuit should have been dismissed at the outset because “public nuisance law simply does not provide a remedy for this harm.”

The justices added that the paint companies did not have control over how their lead-based products were used. Instead, the court said, the burden of making properties safe from lead contamination should rest with landlords and property owners.

“Today’s ruling is a landmark victory for common sense and for responsible companies that did the right thing,” Charles H. Moellenberg Jr., a lawyer for Sherwin-Williams, said in a statement. “The responsibility of making sure children aren’t exposed to lead paint remains squarely on property owners.”

Appellate courts in Illinois, Missouri and New Jersey have rejected similar public nuisance claims. The ruling in Rhode Island could affect pending court decisions in Ohio and California.

Rhode Island was the first state to take on paint manufacturers when it filed a lawsuit against the companies and the Lead Industries Association, a trade group, in October 1999. The state claimed that lead paint constituted a public nuisance in Rhode Island, where more than 43 percent of the houses were built before 1950.

In the first trial, which ended in a mistrial after seven weeks in 2002, jurors were split 4 to 2 in favor of the paint companies. Three years later, the case again went to trial, resulting in the longest civil jury trial in the state’s history. After four months, the jury ruled against the paint manufacturers. It was the only time the lead paint industry had lost a case.

The United States banned lead paint in 1978 after studies linked it to learning disabilities and mental retardation in children, and, in extreme cases, death.

“This reversal is extremely disappointing and I disagree with it in the strongest terms,” Patrick C. Lynch, the Rhode Island attorney general, said in a statement. “Those products poisoned our infants and children — and continue to poison our infants and children — while bringing great profits to the companies that made and sold them.”

John J. McConnell Jr., a lawyer for the Motley Rice law firm, which represented the state, said it would cost Rhode Island homeowners billions of dollars to clean their homes and millions more for taxpayers to protect children from lead-related illnesses.

“We’re clearly very disappointed” in the ruling, Mr. McConnell said. “Children in Rhode Island will continue to be poisoned by lead in paint and the companies that put the poisonous paint in Rhode Island have no responsibility for cleaning up the mess that they created in the first place.”

The court emphasized that it did not “mean to minimize the severity of the harm that thousands of children in Rhode Island have suffered as a result of lead poisoning.”

“Our hearts go out to those children whose lives forever have been changed by the poisonous presence of lead,” the ruling read.

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