Three Artists, Three Arcs, One Gallery

Posted May 31, 2018 11:23 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — These days it is not unusual for a New York gallery to have two spaces and even three. Less typical are moments when their exhibitions complement one another, as do the current solo shows at the Paul Kasmin Gallery. On view in the gallery’s three spaces — clustered conveniently around the intersection of 10th Avenue and West 27th Street — they form a valuable commentary on three artists’ career arcs and the bandwidths of their visions.

One show presents Jane Freilicher (1924-2014) at the beginning of a long career; another, Elliott Puckette (born in 1967) at a promising a midcareer turning point. A third surveys the work of the British sculptor Barry Flanagan (1941-2009), an artist whose stylistic about-face around 1980, was always mystifying from this side of the pond.

Freilicher’s assured, little-known oil paintings of nudes from the 1960s and ‘70s were a hit at last winter’s ADAA Art Show. Now Kasmin’s main space has a touching exhibition of 1950s canvases — mostly still lifes. They reveal Freilicher getting her sea legs as a New York painter, working determinedly in a small, seemingly dark apartment. Richly colored, her efforts resemble clouded-over Bonnards. Each is a quiet little battle in which the artist fends off the pressures of abstract expressionism, the prevailing style, armed with her love of representation, of looking and painting, in some form, what she sees.

From picture to picture, different flowers, vases, textiles and pieces of furniture change partners and positions in the quiet interior. Freilicher works looser or tighter but is always searching, trying different things. In a large oil on paper patchy, pale colors almost dissolve the walls into abstraction and turn the ceiling into a ghostly Monet “Water Lilies.” In “The Electric Fan” a kilim atop a table resembles a veritable waterfall of brush strokes. Perhaps aptly, the most precise work — “The Painting Table” — depicts the tools of Freilicher’s trade.

Across 27th Street, Kasmin’s smallest space features the latest efforts of Elliott Puckette, a painter who became known in the early 1990s for incising (with razor blade) swirls of graceful calligraphic lines into panels of wood stained a single color of ink. Closer to penmanship than painting, this narrow concept of the medium seemed to have petered out a while ago.

Over the last several years, however, Puckette has revived and expanded her narrow painting project, reviving her work partly, it seems, by making wire sculptures to use as models for her lines. Now tangled, even crazed, they are further agitated by more active uses of the ink. As the lines loop and coil, they deepen the space in the paintings. And in some cases, especially the ghostly landscape of the big triptych, “Love Letter,” a nervous wobble betrays the hand. Puckette could use more of this irregular elegance.

The third Kasmin space features a crowded but welcome overview of Barry Flanagan’s career, with some 60 works ranging from 1967 to 2003 in several mediums. Emerging in the early late 1960s, Flanagan was a stalwart of post-minimalism’s multimedia experiments, best known for filling tubelike bags of dyed burlap with sand or plaster, letting, in a sense, the sculpture “make” itself. After a small “Projects” show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1974, part of a continuing series for new and experimental art, his work wasn’t very visible in New York. Then in 1983, he returned, showing of all things, large bronze rabbits mid-leap, balanced on pedestals that were soon accessorizing collectors’ lawns. Flanagan’s apostasy is somewhat explained by the Kasmin show, titled “The Hare Is Metaphor,” which gives an expanded view of both Flanagan’s pre- and post-rabbit years.

We see several instances of his post-minimalist experiments: in sand (with and without burlap), video and photographs. These give way in 1973 to a wonderful block of marble, that seems to kiss post-minimalism goodbye. The first rabbit appears in 1981, standing on a carved stone base. The strange pulled or lumpy forms of these creatures attest to a continuing love of process. The highlight among the bronzes is “Large Monument” (1996), whose massive base is a sculpture unto itself. On top, three rabbits cavort like Matisse’s Dancers; below a solitary rabbit poses like Rodin’s Thinker. This is an eye-opening show.

Event Information:

“Jane Freilicher: ‘50s New York”

“Elliott Puckette: New York”

“Barry Flanagan: The Hare Is Metaphor”

Through June 9, Paul Kasmin Gallery, 293 and 297 10th Ave. and 515 W. 27th St., Manhattan; 212-563-4474, paulkasmingallery.com.