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Reviews: National

Known as an art critic, a chance to edit his visual work.

March 2008

by Gary Schwan

The retrospective began with pictures of circles and semicircles from the 1970s. But unlike the formally elegant abstractions of Kenneth Noland, for example, Plagens's works poke holes in our expectations of geometry. In Untitled Instead of Free Men (1976) the artist has taken a bite out of his perfect turquoise circle, which is set against a fiery red background. In Blue Ring Untitled (1977), the ring, also missing a segment, is hanging precariously in midair. The balancing acts become more ambitious in works from the 1980s and '90s, as the artist juggles a variety of wedges, kitelike forms, and kidney-inspired shapes, along with a much busier palette.


Some of the compositions fail, as they prove more perplexing than mysterious. But Plagens's most impressive and complex works, such as the craggy Wedge of Life (1987) and the brambly Conscious - ness Explained (1991), offer a powerful and emotional alternative to more polished and pared-down types of abstraction. Since the 1970s and '80s, much of abstract painting in America has been in thrall to Minimalism. Plagens cut the ties, and has left them dangling. = Lori Finkel.


John Alexander and Martin Johnson Heade Eaton Fine Art West Palm Beach Winslow Homer once offered this piece of advice: "If a man wants to be an artist he should never look at pictures." The implication is that he should look at nature instead, and that's exactly the course taken by the two artists featured in this exhibition. Contemporary painter John Alexander, who has taken up a Homer-esque obsession with the sea, is based on Long Island, while Luminist master and Hudson River School painter Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) was a Homer contemporary.


Alexander paints the same stretches of the Atlantic at the eastern tip of Long Island-from roughly the same vantage points at various times of day and night. He paints en plein air. But he also often makes mental notes, rushes to his studio, puts the remembered effects down on canvas, and then hustles back to the sea.


Alexander's 13 oils here varied in scale. Some were quite large. All escaped sameness. His measured impasto technique gives the water a sense of power that keeps the pictures from being all swirl and no substance-or crashing bores. He captures light and atmosphere in dramatic, Tumeres que fashion.


Night Light (2004) shows a ghostly spume of moonlit clouds above arocky shore. A field of brownish boulders adds variety to Montauk Light (2004), one of the show's best works. A Wispy cloud hovers above the sea like a calming dove. The artist clearly has a weakness for curious, often spectacular cloud formations, which he rendered in a swirling mix of yellows, whites, pinks, and blues.

Heade was represented here by about two dozen notebook sketches that underscored how seriously he took direct observation. Dating from 1857 to 1867, these pencil drawings treat the landscape of the northeastem United States and Canada. A few were sketchy indeed. But the majority were fairly detailed compositions, including one leafy depiction of a wooded copse done with a flourish of perspectival shading.


On many sketches, in a tiny hand, the artist recorded the identities of trees and the colors he would use later-"manna (?) yellow sky, very pretty" being one delightful example, as well as proof of his devotion to painting from nature.


Herbert list

Stephen Baiter, Chicago.

This exceptional survey of German photographer Herbert List's expansive career featured 42 vintage black-and-white prints from the 1930s to the '60s portraying the world of ruins and sun-bleached nostalgia that he characteristically captured so poetically.

An inveterate traveler who cultivated a Bauhaus-inflected, bohemian lifestyle, List (1903-75) was taken with the grandeur and romance of classical antiquity, as well as with Surrealism. In the footsteps of the 18th- and 19th-century gentleman tourist, he indulged in a kind of photo-essay reportage, which he blended with the avant-garde esthetics of his own era.

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