As summer approaches once again, the New York art world gears up for the annual onslaught of the “summer show.” This is industry speak for “hurry up and put something on the walls so we have time to stop for sunscreen on the way to the beach.” Head to Chelsea, the Lower or Upper East Side, and you will find generally the same thing — a best in show of artwork from gallery staples. This time of year also offers the lesser-known section of the art world the chance to have a crack at otherwise busy gallery walls.
On my last trip to Chelsea, hoping to find something unusual, I was largely disappointed. Making my way through the crowded beehive gallery building at 526 West 26th Street, I felt doom encroach upon my heart, as each show struck at me with numbing sameness. Then, I suddenly and happily stumbled upon a glaring abnormality: The nonprofit Art Bridge has opened a small “drawing room” in what used to be a broom closet. The exhibition space is beyond small, but it offers a refreshing retreat from its flashier, disappointing neighbors.
I’ll admit to being something of a one-trick pony, but I couldn’t resist the current show, which is titled MsBehavior. The exhibition showcases the work of three talented, female abstract painters from Brooklyn, Amy Feldman, Polly Shindler and Amanda Valdez. Last month, I wrote about Four Paintings at Regina Rex Gallery in Ridgewood, Queens; this exhibition offers a similar but also divergent take on Bushwick/Ridgewood abstraction. Densely hung and devoid of color, the broom closet radiates with an off-kilter feminine power.
The four artists at Regina Rex relished a colorful, enthusiastic, “maximalist” approach to art: the more the merrier, the messier the better. This carefree approach seems to eschew self-editing, or is at least made to appear that way. The artists in MsBehavior offer a minimalist flipside to their colorful Brooklyn compatriots. Feldman’s marker drawings and acrylic canvasses are brash and flirt playfully with the notion of the incomplete. The artist constructs her geometrical compositions with careful splashes, splotches and curved lines. Think of an award-winning, square-jawed tango dancer choreographing work on a trampoline. These talismans of imperfection might at first seem unnecessary, but look at them longer and you quickly realize that they keep her paintings moving forward. Diminish the wavering lines, remove the playful drips, and the works lose momentum and fall stagnant.
I’ve been a fan of Feldman’s art for some time. When I walked into this small space I had to resist the urge to generalize: at first glance, the show might look like the work of one artist. Indeed, Shindler’s black-and-white oblong geometries certainly belong to a similar wavelength. Looking at her ink drawings and acrylic canvases, you see a meandering cluster of delicate lines. They cut the space with a timid grace. Her delicate tendrils offer a subtle, almost naïve counterpart to Feldman’s playful swagger. There is a power here, a sort of unfinished naturalism that suggests something equal parts ancient and man-made.
Valdez’s two canvasses are carefully embroidered fabric constructions. The two- or three-toned biomorphic works offer inviolable surfaces that feel impervious to self-doubt or questioning. They seem to speak in conversation with another New York–based abstractionist, Sarah Crowner.
All three artists draw from the idiosyncratic, improvisational language of the pen sketch. Their finished works celebrate — and in fact hinge themselves on — the spirit of immediacy captured by the doodle. Though the language might be similar, what really unifies the work in this exhibit is the artists’ tenacity, the gritty depths of soul contained in their waving, black-and-white lines and hard, solid shapes. At the end of the day, in spite of myself, what I am reminded of is not the trending of formal aesthetics but the content carried within. MsBehavior may champion a playfully dissonant aesthetic, but the works on view radiate a holistic calm, a spiritual panacea for a slick, superficial digital age.
MsBehavior runs until June 28 at the Art Bridge Drawing Room (256 West 26th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan).