Sunday, August 1st, 2004

Contemporary Landscapes

Forum Gallery
745 Fifth Avenue at 57th Street

This review was first published in The New York Sun, August 26, 2004

Israel Hershberg City Center, Jerusalem 1990-91 oil on linen, 47 x 49 inches  Courtesy Forum Gallery
Israel Hershberg City Center, Jerusalem 1990-91 oil on linen, 47 x 49 inches Courtesy Forum Gallery

In August, galleries hang casual fare for accidental tourists, put their feet up and wait for fall. All the more reason, then, to applaud Forum Gallery for a vigorous selection of contemporary landscapes. Each of its twenty-plus paintings, drawings and watercolors is worth the viewing.

Go first to Israel Hershberg’s “City Center, Jerusalem” (1990-91). Painted from a hi-rise window, the view drops precipitously in the foreground, gradually fanning outward toward surrounding hills. Color intensity accumulates at the base of the vantage point, gradually dimming into the myriad indescribable neutrals of a sustained haze. The painting is saturated with mood and the fragility of its moment.

Hershberg makes no secret of his admiration for Antonio L¢pez-Garc¡a, the great contemporary Spanish realist. Hershberg’s composition paraphrases L¢pez-Garc¡a’s
“Madrid desde Torres Blancas” (1976-82); his sense of light derives from the same contemplative patience and austerity. More than a professional nod, Hershberg’s cityscape expresses the reverence of a painter who recognizes his own soul in the sensibility and work of another. Such empathy, expressed on an almost preternatural level of achievement, is rare in contemporary painting.

Robert Bauer’s small landscape of southern Spain and three gossamer drawings make a fine accompaniment. They share Hershberg’s humility before the visual world and his unconcern with fashion. Bauer’s landscape drawings are particularly compelling for their receptivity to the abstract mysteries of depiction. Silvery hatchings in hard pencil travel lightly over the paper, caressing the subject more than describing it. Sudden dark notes, made by the sharpened point of a softer lead, tether near-immaterial marks to the singularities of a locale.

Craig McPherson’s haunting monochrome pastel on canvas is based on Edgar Thompson’s historic photos of American steel works. Points of light punctuate the atmospheric sfumato of manufacture rising from clustered smoke stacks. Think of Seurat descending into Pittsburgh at its industrial height. Certain persuasions might interpret this as a sulfurous vision of hell; to me, it is elegiac and poignant.

Joseph McNamara frames the haze of sundown through the strict geometry of a dry dock. Fading light in the distance is captured in pale pinks and violets that weave, deepened and enriched, through the bedarkened greens and blues of the foreground structure. It is a more sophisticated excursion into the uses of color than the bravura exuberance of Brian Rutenberg’s “Until 2” (2002) that hangs nearby. For all its palette-knifed dash, Rutenberg’s kaleidoscopic charm is ultimately less satisfying than McNamara’s quieter, more deliberate analysis of his motif.

Davis Cone’s meticulous, brashly colored Art Deco picture houses strike the right balance between homage to cultural artifacts and wry recognition of the transience of Style Moderne. (Have fun finding his signature, hidden Where’s-Waldo style within the image.) Tula Telfair ‘s “Early Utopian Ideals” (2003) is lovely to look at and a good choice for anyone who prefers the idea of landscape-their own mental image of the sublime-to the disconcerting specifics of real places. Based on reproductions of 19th century American landscape painting, it has a bookish feel to it. But that is fine if you love books, too.