Can I Get a Witness? Working from Observation

Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects is a long and narrow space, somewhere between a bowling alley and a railroad apartment, on the Lower East Side. It is within this rather confined space that Marshall Price, curator at the uptown National Academy of Art, installed eleven paintings by artists committed to working from observation. Chronologically, the artists span five decades (or generations), with Lois Dodd and Lennart Anderson, born respectively in 1927 and 1928, being the oldest. The youngest include Gideon Bok, Anna Hostvedt, Sangram Majumdar and Cindy Tower, with Bok and Tower born in the 1960s, and Hostevedt and Majumdar born in the 1970s. The other artists are Susanna Coffey, Rackstraw Downes, Stanley Lewis, Catherine Murphy, and Sylvia Plimack Mangold, who were born between 1938 and 1949. Together, these artists — a number of whom have been influential teachers — suggest that observational painting is a vigorous, various, and imaginative enterprise that continues to fly under the radar.

The Struggle for Coherence

The other day, at a small cocktail party, a literary agent told me that he liked writers who knew and wrote for their audience. Our conversation soon sputtered out because I didn’t see any value in disagreeing with him. A few minutes later, a writer confided that he would keep working on a manuscript only if he could morally, ethically and esthetically justify what he was doing. For each of them the work itself could never be justification enough. It had to appeal to a larger power.

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