Exhibit shows degrees of abstract expressionism

ART REVIEW

April 13, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Nowadays we get so much content-laden art that a non-issue-oriented show seems almost a rarity. We get so much installation art, video art, furniture art and other kinds of non-traditional art that a pure painting show can create a sense of nostalgia. Add in that the paintings by the three artists featured this month at School 33 are abstract, and we seem to have stepped back into another era altogether.

If they share abstraction, however, their approaches to it are not the same. Lisa R. Smith's paintings, with their thick surfaces, deep colors and organic shapes, reveal a kind of expressionist abstraction. An artist's statement says they have to do with nature, reproduction, cycles of life, and one can certainly see such things as womb-like shapes in them. But they also and as strongly appear to reflect states of mind, and the best of them, "The Requisite Purge," gives off little hints of both van Gogh and Munch.

Mary Beth Muscara's paintings are lighter in tone, in facture, in mood. With their various shapes of color, overlapping planes, horizontals and verticals, suggestions of a shadow now and then, they possess elements of the representational without being representational. In fact, they're intimate and gentle enough (at least in comparison with the other two artists here) to be reminiscent of still lifes, and certain shapes suggest the inhabitants of still life paintings -- a ledge or table, a chair, fruit, a coffee pot. These are agreeable works; they may not make large statements, but they're not self-important, either.

Would that one could say the same about Joe Herrmann's huge paintings on panels, but unfortunately they manage to be grandiose yet not grand, enormous gestures toward nothing in particular, visual bloviations. It may, however, be unfair to judge Herrmann on the basis of the two paintings here (two much smaller ones are inconsequential). If one could see a larger body of work it might become clear that he is getting at something after all.

Two other artists share the upstairs gallery this month. Maria Karametou's small, mixed media works in the form of books share a degree of sensuality of surface, and here and there one finds a touch of humor.

The "Retired Objects" of David Gibney are recycled household objects -- a medicine cabinet, a suitcase, a bathroom scale -- fiddled with in this or that little way. One or two are good for a mild chuckle, but they're extremely slight.

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