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Art Beat- May 2011

by Lindsey Peckham

“Echo,” Jaume Plensa

I was convinced that after Jim Campbell’s gorgeous “Scattered Lights” exhibit in Madison Square Park this winter that there was no better way to utilize the public space as a large gallery, but I have (wonderfully) been proven wrong. Spanish artist Jaume Plensa’s immense sculpture “Echo” is a 44-foot head of ambiguous gender and ethnicity that appears warped, though not beyond distinction. It is impressive, and seems at odds with its surroundings. The bizarre and strikingly white figure emphasizes the dichotomy that already exists between the arching buildings that encircle Madison Square Park and the ancient trees between which the piece stands. It’s as if it were a special effect from a film come to life in the middle of Manhattan, and it imposes an odd tranquility on the viewer, most especially at nighttime. I have a feeling I’ll be taking the long way home  for a while just to catch a glimpse of this lovely sculpture.

“Love and Paint,” Alexander Esguerra

Keep an eye on young artist Alexander Esguerra - he’s onto something. His “Love and Paint” series - in which couples of all ages, races, and sexual orientations cover themselves in paint and have sex on a large canvas - is more than an exciting exhibit; it’s at once a social experiment, a voyeuristic pleasure, and, quite frankly, a breath of fresh air. The recent showing at Openhouse pop-up Gallery in Soho was not only a demonstration of the incredibly beautiful results of this experimental project, but also a live performance. A good way into the party, a nude model was covered in paint in front of the entire audience, and, as exhibitionist as it was, the show was mesmerizing. As the paintings are anonymous, it’s a tantalizing guessing game to divine what was created by whom. And, at the very least, Esguerra throws one hell of a party.

The Cone Sisters at the Jewish Museum

The Jewish Museum is currently showing one of the most extensive and fascinating collections amassed in the last century, and it is breathtaking. The famous Cone sisters of Baltimore were patrons of some of the world’s most avant-garde artists, at a time when doing so was not only unpopular, but borderline taboo for these German-Jewish immigrants. And yet their collection of almost 3,000 works included some by Matisse, Picasso, Gauguin, van Gogh, and a host of other thrillingly familiar names. The exhibit does these phenomenal ladies justice by not only displaying the works, but by thoroughly and articulately explaining the relationships they developed with the artists over time. Despite the array of diverse works and artists on display, the exhibit is surprisingly and pleasantly cohesive. Get to it while you can, because it’s its first time in New York, and it is a sight to see.

Picasso at the Gagosian

Though it’s a complete coincidence that this exhibit shares the title of a recent film about Yves Saint-Laurent and his lover Pierre Berge, “L’amour fou” seems a particularly apropos name for this stunning collection of works featuring Picasso’s most (in)famous muse. The lovely young Marie-Thérèse was a constant source of inspiration to Picasso for nearly two decades, and the Gagosian (the one on West 21st Street) has an astounding array of his beautiful and undeniably sexy portraits of her. After all, this is the woman who, in addition to defining the latter half of his career, received countless love letters from him, was the catalyst for his lauded return to sculpture, and gave birth to his daughter, all the while remaining a complete secret from even Picasso’s closest friends and family. It’s an irresistible back story, and the exhibit itself is as gorgeous and mysterious as what’s behind it. It’s at once colorful, somber, surreal, and exciting, and a definite must-see before it closes the first week of June.

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