Dialogues through time
Gemini GEL to Joni Moisant Weyl
525 West 24th st 4th floor, New York, NY
From October 6, 2022 to January 14, 2023
By STEPHEN WOZNIAK, November 2022
The eternal themes of fine art remind us that the perpetual concerns of life are often one and the same; whether it’s our misfortunes, our wills and our weaknesses in Dante’s harrowing hell or the hope and splendor poetically depicted in Monet’s favorite landscapes of Parc Monceau. Artists, of course, cannot circumvent this dynamic between art and life, and we, as an audience, would not want it any other way. But for the accomplished professional, who must draw as much inspiration from history and proven technique in the creative field of his choice as from the life ahead, it is essential to understand his medium and his interests presented in the work from the deep, as well as from the recent past. . The exhibition of the current edition, Dialogues through time, on view in Gemini GEL at Joni Moisant Weyl until January 14, 2023, shows us many key overlaps between works that span the ages from artists far and near like Albrecht Dürer and Susan Rothenberg to Francesco Fontana and Vija Celmins . Some of them are conscious nods made by the artists featured in the exhibition, but, more often, by renowned art historian and curator Susan Dackerman, who has assembled this important collection of sixty works throughout the gallery.
Let’s start with the fundamentals of the form. This exhibit gives us a line-drawn image of the classic Vitruvian Man made famous by Leonardo da Vinci in 1490, but here created by Dürer, as the 16th-century woodcut from his posthumously published book, Proportion Vier Bücher von Menschlicher, which includes informative text and measurements, as well as details on scale and proportions – both ideal and unusual – that artists should learn and use when rendering the human figure. Contemporary artist Jonathan Borofsky follows suit with several color-dense lithographs in the series of prints Man Woman from 2000, which feature superimposed images of nearly silhouetted female and male figures, limbs outstretched, centered on the page. They do something interesting: create an active, vibrant, abstract third figure along the points of their union, perhaps giving rise to cooperative efforts and acceptance of any ostensible differences between the two.
Another pairing of past and present arises between the 15e the astronomer of the century Francesco Fontana and the artist Vija Celmins. Fontana was among the very first to view and record Mars and other nearby planets in our solar system with his own hand-built telescopes. In fact, he traced the projected outlines of the observable planets – as close to a photo as possible at the time – to help create a collection of images printed in the book. Novae Coelestium, Terrestriumque Rerum Observations, which translates to “The new skies observed from Earth”. Its engraving, featured in the show, resembles our planet’s moon. It is similar to the top half of the mezzotint/stacked etching created by contemporary artist Vija Celmins based on a space agency photo of one of Jupiter’s eighty moons at the top of an image inverted from a constellation. Both are essentially black and white and squared with paper folds, in Fontana’s case, or the classic Ts, Ls and Xs used as reference marks in popular NASA shots featured in Celmins’ work. Both feature blunt, yet eerie and elegant celestial bodies touched just enough by each artist to pull together the vastness of the subjects into an accessible image worthy of close – or even superficial – philosophical scrutiny.
Rembrandt van Rijn’s moody portrait commission works are many and varied in the painted form for which he is famous among Dutch masters. Rembrandt treated edited etchings and drypoint etchings alike, such as Jan Lutma, goldsmith from 1656. In this modest seven-inch-high engraving, we see a bearded Lutma, seated next to a hammer and awl on a nearby side table, clutching his work – a gold candlestick . Clearly these objects help indicate Lutma’s craft, but also gave Rembrandt more complex objects to represent the mysterious shades and deep tones he is known to explore in his work. Other artists from Dialogs also present the tools and media of their profession. 1 color lithograph by Philip Guston, Workshop forms from 1980, shows us a small mountain range from the back of stretched art canvases. At Guston’s Easel, another litho from the time, we see a painting on an easel that features a distinctly Sisyphean stone on a hill, and what appears to be a club-shaped piece of wood with several large nails driven in, hinting at some sort death knell, sacrifice or even an abstract crucifixion. The tools featured in these and other pieces serve to remind us of the real toil and necessary rigors of studio life, not just the desired outcome of a work or the celebration of a subject matter depicted.
I looked carefully at the works in the exhibition for a few hours and was lucky enough to see a few small abstract prints by Richard Serra laid out on flat files for a buyer. Included was an approximately 2’x2′ square edition of the deepest matte black, with an almost stucco-on-paper texture, titled Lift weight I. It was a reminder of the tactile impression that print and other media editions can make on viewers. Multiples do more than reproduce another work by an artist in a flat format, ready to be framed and sold. Far from there. They are truly dynamic and distinct works in themselves. As artist Robert Motherwell has said, “In printmaking I use essentially the same process as in painting with a important exception: trying, with sensitivity to the medium, to emphasize what print can do best – better than, say, painting, collage, watercolour, drawing or whatever. Otherwise, the artist expresses the same vision in graphic design that he or she expresses in his or her other works.
I was surprised by the omission of the first pages of Chinese books from the 9e century, which essentially sparked the advent of reproducible printing or perhaps some examples of activist signs created at key moments in social and legal history. Perhaps they are difficult to find or do not correspond to the themes, respectively, created for Dialogs.
At the end of the day, Dialogues through time is a well-made, artfully curated and beautifully hung exhibition in the space that now constitutes the Gemini GEL of the Joni Moisant Weyl Galleries. If you get a chance to see this show, do it, and also check out the Print Center New York Visual recording: the materiality of sound in print on the ground floor of the same building where Gemini GEL to Joni Moisant Weyl lived for more than ten years. It’s an apt pairing that reminds viewers of the remarkable power of published fine art in its many arresting and unexpected story-driven formats.
The artists included in Dialogues through time are:
Rembrandt Van Rijn
Dialogues through time is on view in Gemini GEL at Joni Moisant Weyl from October 6, 2022 to January 14, 2023 in New York City. WM