43 East 78th street in New York is a beautiful hidden address in a narrow alleyway between two buildings adorned with twisted branches arching and crisscrossing every which way. On an overcast day with a light drizzle you can stare up between the buildings and watch raindrops burst off the windowsills and branches. It’s atmospheric.
This is the address of Half Gallery, which was showing the work of Genieve Figgis. Don’t be fooled by the exclusive address, it’s not above asking doormen, “Where is this building exactly?” Figgis is the illegitimate love child of Manet, Degas, Bacon, Currin and Condo, and somewhat founded by Richard Prince, making her a study to say the least. Her brilliantly grotesque portraits with saturated colors and distorted compositions call to the viewer, even off a computer screen. The problem—that day—was Half Gallery seemed to be just that, half the experience. I stood in that beautiful rainy alleyway watching raindrops burst thinking about what I’d seen of Figgis’s show Good Morning, Midnight on the Internet. Buzzing the door again and again with no answer. My trip uptown from Astoria was quickly turning into an adventure I’d have to figure out a next step for. Next to the gallery is a trendy boutique with a very nice employee who offered help, “Half Gallery patrons are always knocking over here it’s totally fine. Let me give them a call for you.” No answer. A light bulb! Uptown Madision Ave. Gagosian is just around the corner, I remembered.
Figgis is the illegitimate love child of Manet, Degas, Bacon, Currin and Condo, and somewhat founded by Richard Prince, making her a study to say the least.
A Helen Frankenthaler composition is worthy of comparison to a rolling view on a trip up the Hudson River. Great planes of color and light, vast spaces that are crisp and bleed out into the horizon. No sound, all wind, something’s alive. Composing with Color: Paintings 1962-1963 was a small, yet striking look at a very early, mature time in Frankenthaler’s career. The gesture, at this time, was taking on new forms. The hard gestures of Pollock’s flung and dripped enamel were evolving into thinned, pooled, and poured paint stains onto canvas that turned into cascading fields of color. Somewhere between Pollock and Rothko, Frankenthaler pushed her forms so that they float, hanging on the bare canvas. Her images are structural and you enter the composition the same way you would an Albert Bierstadt landscape. It is an overwhelming experience to see these paintings and think about how groundbreaking the compositions are and how significant Frankenthaler is to our history and culture during the sixties.
The Frankenthaler show at Gagosian only made me hungrier to see the Figgis show at Half Gallery. I trekked back across Madison Avenue. The rain felt good on my face. I didn’t open my umbrella. Back between the buildings at 47 East 78th street, I was determined to buzz that buzzer until the door flew open. It proved to be a fool’s errand; Half Gallery would end up only supplying half for me. Unfortunately I won’t be able to speak on the images anymore than what the Internet can show. I am more than grateful for the adventure though. It’s always good to be reminded that New York can be so unexpectedly fun, aesthetic, and elusive. All paintings aside.
Half Gallery and Gagosian were worth it. I’d never heard Figgis’s name before but I am sure to be back. Her haunting images and masterfully executed brushwork are free of burden, much like Frankenthaler’s poured fields. Just looking at these images, I found it easy to see the passion and craft in them. That joy shone through and even if there’s no answer at Half Gallery next time, Gagosian will still be right around the corner to pick up whatever pieces are missing.
Efrem Zelony-Mindell is an artist who lives in New York. For more of his work click here …
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