HUDSON, N.Y. — Bruce Gagnier’s life-size figure sculptures have been popping up everywhere this past year: at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, the National Academy Museum, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, John Davis Gallery in Hudson, NY. And they’ve impressed each time; despite their clumped surfaces, slumping poses, and disproportional limbs, they possess a kind of scourged dignity. Physically blighted, Gagnier’s figures seem paradoxically uplifted — or at least resolutely self-possessed — in spirit.
An exhibition currently in John Davis’s carriage house space reveals another side of the sculptor. Twelve of Gagnier’s paintings, five-to-six feet in height, explore the pictorial counterpart to his sculptures. Each depicts a single nude (all but one standing) in dark, simple spaces. Built up from many feathered layers of paint — dates reveal that all have been reworked over a period of years, some more than a decade — the figures pulse with subtly atmospheric color and supple contours that course from head to toe.
The motif of a lone figure in a dark, vertical format brings to mind certain paintings by Dürer and Lucas Cranach, and Gagnier’s fluency of modeling and atmosphere leave no doubt about his awareness of such precedents. Like his sculptures, however, these paintings overturn every tradition of the ideal. The poses are inelegant, sometimes cryptically awkward; limbs are distended or compressed; details made eccentric, so that feet may be swollen, and eyes and nipples turned into eerie, target-like concentric circles. Some of Gagnier’s subjects feel like deer fixed by the glare of headlights — startled and a little discomfited to be the focus of his willful attentions. In others cases, the warmth of empathy shows through, for instance in the half-smile of the quietly radiant “Touching the Neck” (2010–14) and in the vulnerable figure of “Standing” (2010–12), in which a distant floor line accents the loneliness of a deep, dim space.
At times Gagnier appears to tussle more with styles of traditional painting than with its internal compositional tensions. As with his figure sculptures, the paintings tend to set small, evocative articulations within broadly conceived poses; they coalesce through vigorous local modelings and a cohering attitude, rather than through a taut pacing of intervals. But then there’s a painting like “Arms behind the Head/Male” (2010–14), which unfolds with something like classical measure. Here, contrasting moments add one upon the other; pinks of flesh stand out particularly powerfully against a deep brown-green background, and coiled fingers at the figure’s hip pace the sweeping pose, from the foot — anchored by the articulations of each toe — to the culmination of the head with its strange target-eyes. The frozen stare feels all the odder, peering as it does from cadenced rhythms.
One of Gagnier’s small sculptures of heads is on view in John Davis’s main building. (Inquire, and you may have the treat of seeing several more in storage.) These heads are my very favorite works by the artist. Molded physically, rather than suggested through two-dimensional renderings, the idiosyncrasies of the subjects register with a compact deliberateness. The most intensely individualized of his works, the heads possess a weighty, mysterious presence that transcends style and taste.
Bruce Gagnier continues at John Davis Gallery (362 ½ Warren Street, Hudson, New York) through August 10.
Your list of must-see, fun, insightful, and very New York art events this month, including Lee Lozano, Cindy Sherman, Tokuko Ushioda, Anas Albraehe, and more.
The art establishment was never quite sure what to do with a self-taught artist like Basquiat, who owed as much to bebop and William S. Burroughs’s cut-up technique as he did to African influences.
International audiences have free access to the media collections of MMCA Korea, Sharjah Art Foundation, and ArkDes through this subscription-based art streaming platform.
Kadish’s fossil-like heads, forms, and figures remind us that every civilization, including our own, eventually collapses.
In every role she held, Vendryes advocated for marginalized people and celebrated the cultural contributions of the Black and queer communities.
Convened by Erika Sprey, Lamin Fofana, Sky Hopinka, Emmy Catedral, and Manuela Moscoso, the public program unfolds this summer at CARA in New York City.
Stanton, who died of AIDS complications in 1984, left behind an engaging body of work, a moving tribute to a bygone generation of creative minds.
Baz Luhrmann’s film Elvis and Danny Boyle’s miniseries Pistol are both overly fixated on the influence their respective musicians’ managers had on them.
The Bay Area art book fair is back this July with free programming at three different on-site venues, new exhibitors, and fundraising editions from renowned artists.
In the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision, arts workers and reproductive rights organizations are collaborating on educational resources for accessing safe procedures.
The couple launched the Futureverse Foundation, a grantmaking organization that aims to “help keep the metaverse widely accessible.”
The museum’s “pay-what-you-wish” policy will remain in place for New York State residents and tri-state students, but out-of-state adults will pay $5 extra.