November 30, 2012

Eva Schicker at Valentine Tonight!

Eva Schicker, Across the Mountainscape, ink on paper, 22x30, detail, 2012

Eva Schicker, who is represented at our gallery, will be showing at VALENTINE tonight in a group exhibit


James Siena, David Humphrey, Loie Hollowell, Eva Schicker

Opening tonight, 6PM - 9PM at Valentine
464 Seneca Ave • Ridgewood • Queens 11385 • 718 381-2962

DeKalb Avenue L station map
The exhibit runs through December 23rd.

Gallery hours are Friday - Sunday from 1PM - 6PM and by appointment.

November 16, 2012

Fuchs Projects Opens at 56 Bogart Street

Rafael Fuchs, copyright 2012, all rights reserved.

Rafael Fuchs, one of our represented artists, has opened Fuchs Projects in the premier Bushwick gallery building of 56 Bogart Street.

"Our mission is to preserve, produce, create events and exhibit art works of emerging and mid-career artists who are a part of the Bushwick art evolution and are creating challenging, educating and titillating works that are related, especially, to the photography media."

Currently on view is

Rafael Fuchs
new archival prints
Until December 2, 2012

October 8, 2012

Jan Holthoff: The Chemical Landscape

Fractured Mountain pigment, acrylic on canvas, 39.5 x 31.5 in. 2012

Paintings by Jan Holthoff

Opening Reception: Friday, October 19, 7PM-11PM
Duration: October 19 - November 25, 2012

Print copies available at the gallery

119 Ingraham Street, Suite 312
Brooklyn NY

"The gesture in paint is a trace of my subjectivity. And this comes together with the subjectivity of my experience of landscape. Experience of landscape, experience of painting. Experience is the key in both cases. But it is really about subjectivity. I don't get images from the Internet, I don't work with film stills. I get all my images from traveling. It's about the value of subjectivity." (Jan Holthoff)

It is as if the paint were a continuous extension of the landscape … by dint of being at odds with it. As if the canvas were merely the residue or the document of a chemical reaction involving landscape and subject. And as in chemistry, the agent and substrate are both part of a single and unitary event, and yet also riven by the differences in their properties.

From the catalog essay by Ethan Pettit
Exhibition Homepage

Flickering pigment, acrylic on canvas, 39.5 x 31.5 in. 2012

October 7, 2012

When We Were Ancient

Teddy's Bar and Grill celebrates 25 years of solidarity
with the avant garde!
As part of the celebrations of their 25th anniversary, and also of 125 years since Peter Doelger opened a tavern at this location, Teddy’s Bar and Grill is proud to present
a history of the Williamsburg scene
Opening Reception: Saturday, October 20, 9pm to Midnight
Teddy's Back Room
96 Berry Street, at the corner of North 8th Street
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
(L Train to Bedford Avenue)


a project of ethan pettit gallery
An exhibit of archives from the artist and bohemian migration to Williamsburg and Greenpoint in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. Zines, posters, photos, weeklies, artist literature of all kinds from 3 decades.
And featuring Ward Shelley’s "Williamsburg Timeline"
Loren Munk’s "Williamsburg Strip" and photography by Mara Catalan.

Minor Injury • The Nose • Flytrap • Cat's Head • Lizard's Tail • Keep Refrigerated • Lalalandia • El Sensorium • Organism • They Might Be Giants • The L Cafe • Mustard • Brand Name Damages • Waterfront Week • Worm • Tony Millionaire • Medea's Weekend • The Curse • The Can Man • The Ten Dollar Man • Test-Site • Open Window Theater • The Pedestrian Project • Nerve Circle • The Astro Zombies • Colored Greens • Hit & Run Theater • Wild Child Productions • Lex Grey • The Ship's Mast • and piles of other ephemera and detritus from the days of $300 apartments in the heart of the Northside

From the archives of ethan pettit contemporary and Eyewash gallery
Special thanks to Larry Walczak
Curated by Ethan Pettit
If you know who you are ... you will not want to miss this

Exhibit runs through November 15, daily

Photo: the Northside waterfront, circa 1990. © Eva Schicker 2012

October 1, 2012

The Chemical Landscape

Jan Holthoff’s Landscape Events
October 20 – February 25, 2013

Fractured Mountain pigment, acrylic on canvas
39.5 x 31.5 in. 2012

catalog (pdf download (656 KB)

more from Jan Holthoff

Jan Holthoff is a roving, restless, fiercely driven, typical German globetrotter really, who chases down the most important things that go into making strong paintings. This starts with travel, with absorbing the great landscapes of the American deserts, of alpine Europe, of the plains of Hindustan.

And then with equal energy he moves into the territory of the canvas itself. And by that I mean the treacherous theoretical landscape of painting. Jan describes his approach as consisting in these two fundamental experiences of landscape and painted surface — the event in the world and the event on canvas. But what is important to grasp here is that for Holthoff this duality is not arbitrary. It is not merely a matter of experiencing here the landscape and there the act of painting, and then wrapping the two experiences up in some kind of a painterly resolution. Rather, the strength of these paintings is that they suggest irreconcilable tensions between surface and landscape, almost an indifference of the one to the other, or a conflict. They resist the compulsion to reconcile surface with landscape, and it is in that resistance that the painting paradoxically subsists.

Shifting Vacuum pigment, acrylic on canvas
39.5 x 31.5 in. 2012

There has been some vivid writing out of Germany about Holthoff’s art, about his highly original and unsettling technique, his famous “fractured and recomposed” and “fissured” surfaces (Michael Voets). There is a huge spectrum of types of application and strata in Holthoff’s canvases. And the passages of paint seem to move in their own world, against that of the landscape. This separateness of the surface contrives to distance the landscape, makes it more jarring, as landscapes are actually experienced in the world.

Riding the Snake pigment, acrylic on canvas, 70.8 x 118.1 in.
Galerie Wittenbrink installation, Munich 2012

Rising Sun pigment, acrylic on canvas
39.5 x 31.5 in. 2012

Vast mountain ranges and deserts are indeed “indifferent” to art and, for that matter, to all of human existence. This is why aesthetic philosophy (namely Kant) places the majesty of huge or terrifying natural events such as mountains or tsunamis in their own category, that of the sublime, which is different from beauty. Jan’s paintings seize this point and these extremities. He does not render landscapes so much as give witness to them through an ordeal in paint. It is “process painting” taken to a whole new level with regard to the experience of landscape.

“The gesture in paint is a trace of my subjectivity,” says Jan. “And this comes together with the subjectivity of my experience of landscape. Experience of landscape, experience of painting. Experience is the key in both cases. But it is really about subjectivity. I don’t get images from the Internet, I don’t work with film stills. I get all my images from traveling. It’s about the value of subjectivity.”

A Kind of Death pigment, acrylic on canvas
39.5 x 31.5 in. 2012

Flickering pigment, acrylic on canvas, 39.5 x 31.5 in. 2012

There is a great sense of release and of a perpetual unwinding in these canvases, a slackening of the sinews that compel a correspondence of surface and landscape. In Flickering (2012) the paint heaves and coagulates at cross-purposes with the gully of alpine snow and rock that is its image. All of the conventional relationships between surface and landscape, and also between object and subject, are torn asunder, and the act of painting now revolves around some new organizing principle.

It is as if the paint were a continuous extension of the landscape … by dint of being at odds with it. As if the canvas were merely the residue or the document of a chemical reaction involving landscape and subject. And as in chemistry, the agent and substrate are both part of a single and unitary event, and yet also riven by the differences in their properties.

Great Escape pigment, acrylic on canvas, 70.8 x 118.1 in. 2012

Jan cites Tachism and the “Art Informel” of post-war Europe as an influence. These movements have been called a European answer to American abstraction and color field painting. It was not so much “informal art” as it was an art characterized by the absence of form and premeditated structure as primary concerns of painting. It is a more casual, loose, intuitive application of paint that draws even further away from formalism than the New York School had done. It is not a new idea, but Holthoff takes it up with renewed focus. The looseness, the unraveling of paint on canvas, this loose approach, now engulfs the whole of an experience of landscape. And that in turn unearths matters of painting latent in Friedrich and the German Romantic painters.

These are important paintings. Their appearance in Bushwick is timely. In any case, I think they have something interesting to contribute to a robust movement in abstract and non-objective painting that has been underway here for some years now.

— Ethan Pettit, October 2012

September 28, 2012

Ken Butler Performs Tonight at the Brooklyn Rod & Gun Club

FRIDAY 9/28: Ken Butler - Voices of Anxious Objects 8:00pm
Brooklyn Rod & Gun Club

59 Kent Avenue, Williamsburg, between North 10th and North 11th.

Ken performs regularly here, he does a great show, and it's a great hang!


Schwitters meets Rube Goldberg meets Hamza El-din meets Beefheart meets late Miles! A truly amazing performance! Ken Butler is an artist and musician whose Hybrid musical instruments, performances, collage drawings, and installations explore the interaction and transformation of common and uncommon objects, altered images, sounds and silence. His works have been featured in numerous exhibitions and performances throughout the USA, Canada, and Europe including The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and The Kitchen, The Brooklyn Museum, The Queens Museum, Lincoln Center and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as well as in South America, Thailand, and Japan. His works have been reviewed in The New York Times, The Village Voice, Artforum, Smithsonian, and Sculpture Magazine and have been featured on PBS, CNN, MTV, and NBC, including a live appearance on The Tonight Show.

September 25, 2012

Ideogram and Morphism - Robert Egert

Inversion blue chalk, blue conté on printmaking paper, 11 x 17 in. 2012

The underworld, a world unknown by any living person, is imagined as an extension of our own world but perversely altered. It exists in a parallel universe–a magical place that obeys the laws of conventional, three dimensional space but yet cannot be accessed save by passing through the transformation of death. Like a mirror to our own world, the underworld is often depicted as an inverted reflection of our living reality. An inverted torch, a window that slides open from the top, a bed that clings to the ceiling. - R.E.

Robert Egert’s biomorphic, blue chalk drawings took me by surprise – full of magma energy, wit, and speculations on the body, on science, on nature mimicking art. His images are Darwin’s dreams, Philip Guston’s party-jokes, or Frida Kahlo’s sighs of grief. They hold underworlds of swirly vessels, Klein bottles (non-orientable, mathematical surfaces), slaughterhouse slurry turned into bone meal, and pumping diastolic hearts. While classically beautiful, they shocked me to subservience – I was suddenly alone, at 30,000 feet, where I could hear a pin drop.

— William Allen, WG Magazine, September 2012

Robert Egert grew up riding his bicycle through Bushwick in the 1970s. Twenty years later he was living in Williamsburg and was one of the handful of artists who founded the artists’ community there. Williamsburg’s early bohemians share an intense bond. They are like family to me. And even if I might not know them well, as friends in the ordinary sense, I know them deeply in connection with our shared philosophical roots.

Lekythoi No.6 tempera on archival paper 23 x 30 in. 2012

Williamsburg in the 90s was an oasis of weirdness at a time when art on the whole was very derivative. There was a movement here that advanced synthesis over analysis in art making. The neighborhood became known for hybrid forms and unearthly environments. There was a generative, organic quality to the art that was starkly different from the imagistic literalism of postmodernism. You can see this overall trend in Williamsburg in the work of Roxy Paine, Chris Martin, Amy Sillman, Ken Butler, Rachel Harrison, Ebon Fisher, to name a few. And you can also see in the history of this art scene a fusion between conceptualism and abstract painting.

To be sure, art writers invariably strain to find overarching narratives, and I would not attempt to do this, for example, with the new trends in painting in Bushwick, which in most cases I think are no more connected with old Williamsburg than they are with any number of other historical trends in painting. Still, we can point to some things that happened to New York Art at the turn of the century as the scene began to migrate across the East River. The appearance of certain esoteric and organic motifs in abstract painting in Greenpoint in the 1980s (James Harrison, Peter Acheson, Chris Martin). And the way in which certain conceits of minimalism merged with media art in the “warehouse movement” along the waterfront in the early 90s.

Robert Egert’s work provides a key to this transition. His work spans the whole of it. Some of his paintings even look like keys, or compact hybrids of organic life and language poised for an unraveling.

Torasik conté on printmaking paper, approx. 12 x 23 in. 2010-2011

A Klein Bottle is a mathematical construction that takes the form of a three-dimensional object. The Klein Bottle has a single continuous surface that coterminously includes both interior and exterior surfaces. Apposite to the basic nature of evolutionary biology, the Klein Bottle is in fact a primitive model for capture, consumption and digestion. - R.E.

Robert Egert oil on canvas, late 80s

Robert began his career in the postmodern East Village and Soho in the 80s. Then he was in the middle of the Brooklyn phenomenon in the 90s. He took a master’s degree in Marxist studies at the storied CUNY grad center under Marshall Berman, a right of passage of many thinkers and readers in the neighborhood at that time. And so even though there is a Brooklyn synthetic quality to his organic forms, there is also an analytic quality that comes through from the 80s fascination with history, power, the construction of knowledge (epistemology), and so forth.

Organ 1 conté on printmaking paper, 12 x 17 in. 2009

The delicate red and blue conté drawings remind me of those mysterious illustrations in the very first encyclopedias, like the drawings assembled by the brigade of draftsmen who accompanied Napoleon’s army to Egypt. Specimens from a naïve science.

Robert Egert oil on cavas, late 80s

Pendulum conté on printmaking paper, 11 x 17 in. 2012

The word pendulum can refer to the swinging part of a clock that acts to maintain and regulate movement. But the origin of the word comes from the latin, pendulus, hanging down. Our own gross (large) organs are concentrated in our chest, thorax, neck and head, and our appendages are largely composed of skeletal, muscular, adipose tissue, nerve, skin, etc. In the future, scientists will likely explore the implantation of sensory organs in our appendages to enhance our sensorial capacity. This will be especially useful in military applications. - R.E.

The conté drawings could also be rubbings from some alien fossil, or powdery carbon copies drawn out of some forgotten photomechanical process. One inspiration that Robert mentions are medical illustrations of vascular systems, where long arteries are truncated for easier viewing.

Somewhere between language and life form, Egert draws these entities as discrete symbols, carefully conjoined with their negative spaces. And then there are intricate details inside the shapes, rendering a deeper layer of anatomy. The drawings are done on a rough and allegedly extinct kind of laid printing paper. The pigment dust lies on the page a delicate powder, much like Odilon Redon’s use of charcoal.

They are pithy but not cynical. Actually they are affirmative and sincere. They hold out an ephemeral optimism against a disembodied modernity that they nonetheless acknowledge. Simply, the possibility of new aesthetic life against considerable odds. They remind me of the marks that a philosopher might make who has forsaken writing, but whose pictograms still contain the powder of the battlefield.

— Ethan Pettit, 25 September 2012

September 15, 2012

Gili Levy at Valentine

Gili Levy, oil on canvas, approx. 46" x 54"
Now on view at Valentine
Gili Levy is in the show that opened last night at Valentine in Ridgewood. She joints Lauren Collings, Barbara Friedman, and Shelley Marlow in "4 Who Paint." This is a good show, well worth a visit. Fred Valentine has an excellent eye and about as good a knowledge of the arts in northern Brooklyn as it is possible to have. The shows at his gallery are consistently intelligent. Gili Levy has been in both of the two shows we've had to date at ethan pettit gallery, and so we are delighted with her placement in the present show at Valentine.

September 4, 2012

Panel Discussion on Bushwick Galleries this Saturday. Don't Miss It!

After three months in business as an art dealer, I have built up a bit of a steam of things to say about this business. About new models that need to be explored, and old assumptions that need to be relegated to the dustbin of art history.

This Saturday at 5:30 (Sept. 8) I will be participating in a panel discussion at the Bogart Salon in Bushwick, as part of Citydrift. 56 Bogart Street, Morgan L Stop.

The business and role of galleries in Brooklyn today is most definitely a compelling topic, and we have Peter Hopkins and Meenakshi Thirukode to thank for pushing this to the discussion it needs!

The weekend will be full of other panel discussions as well. For example, I will definitely be interested in what my landlord Thomas Burr Dodd of Brooklyn Fire Proof has to say about the new business environment in Bushwick.

Download the entire Citydrift/Bushwick schedule of panel discussions.


See the time and location details for WACKADOODLE on our website

Thank you for your time. And I hope to see you on Friday night.

— Ethan Pettit

August 28, 2012

Wackadoodle !!!


September 7 — October 14, 2012

Opening Reception — Friday, September 7 — 7PM-11PM

Ken Butler • Robert Egert • Jan Holthoff • Gili Levy • Henry G. Sanchez
Eva Schicker • Alkemikal Soshu

August 26, 2012

Ken Butler Is in the House!

We count ourselves lucky among New York City galleries now to be representing an iconoclast of two major currents of activity across the turn of the century. Ken Butler is outsized both in Williamsburg and in the downtown school of Zorn. He is probably also the only artist in the world who can claim the distinction of having had simultaneous shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art and the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.
Ken Butler's work has also been featured at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and at Exit Art, Thread Waxing Space, The Kitchen, The Brooklyn Museum, and Lincoln Center. His work has toured South America, Thailand, and Japan. Butler has been reviewed in the New York Times, The Village Voice, Artforum, and Smithsonian magazine. He has been featured on MTV, PBS, CNN, and NBC. Ken recorded his 1997 Voices of Anxious Objects on John Zorn’s Tzadik Records. And he has a dozen other releases out on various labels.

Ken Butler, Sled Cello, 1998, Mixed media. Collection of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Willamette, Oregon, Gift of the artist

I am most pleased that Ken has joined us. I welcome and thank him. In our upcoming group show opening September 7 (still TBA) you'll see some of Ken Butler’s famous hybrid instruments.

Ken Butler, Torso Cello, 1994, Mixed media. 51 x 14 x 12

July 24, 2012

Soshu Covers "Amalgam" in Kathmandu

One of our artists, Alkemikal Soshu, made this video of the annual "Amalgam" show at Siddhartha art gallery in Kathmandu. There are 26 artists in the show, which positions established Nepalese artists along with recent graduates of art academies in Nepal and India.

Soshu's commentary in this video is most interesting. He converses easily with painting and is intimate with the art scene in Nepal. He mentions for example an initiative in the 1960s by the King of Nepal to boost the arts in the kingdom. And there are a number of pithy satires in the show on the monarchy (which was only recently deposed) and on Nepalese society and politics.

There are influences here from traditional religious and court painting, as well as from pop art, abstraction, and figurative art. Quite a diverse and compelling show that should be of interest to art communities around the world.

Arjun Khaling, detail. "A maze of natural tribal culture" says Sohsu 

Tikka Dutta Dahal, Yogis 
Soshu himself is not in this particular show, but he might as well be. Through his online videos and posts he has made himself a cultural ambassador from Kathmandu, where he enjoys perhaps more notoriety as a painter than he might care to admit.

Alkemikal Soshu, The Matador, oil on canvas 30 x 59.5 in. 2012

July 19, 2012

WAH Center Acquires Drawing by Eva Schicker

Floating on Clouds, Eva Schicker, 2011 
Yuko Ni, founder and director of the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center (WAH) has acquired a drawing by Eva Schicker, whose "Floating on Clouds" will go into the permanent collection of the center.

WAH has also been in possession for some 15 years of a complete set of all 8 issues of "The Nose", a poster-sized Williamsburg arts magazine that came out in the late 1980s and early 90s. The Nose was printed in limited editions in silkscreen, blueprint, and large photocopy. Since our gallery is a source of original editions of this and other early Williamsburg documents, we will also be verifying and documenting the WAH collection of the Nose.

This 1991 issue of "The Nose" is a blueprint based on arial photos
of Williamsburg and the East River

July 13, 2012

New Galleries Open in Bushwick

About six weeks into business as a gallery, with back to back stories in the Bushwick Daily about galleries closing and opening, and after a little poking around, it seems "displacement" is not the primary factor in galleries closing. Just running the place seems to be the sticking point. Many galleries in Bushwick are run by artists, and they are primarily about pulling new groups of artists together and having a place to show for as long as need be. And then eventually the founders move on to other creative projects, or return to making art full time. These kinds of galleries are the lifeblood of the art world, I think. And we always want them to last forever. And maybe some of them will! Bushwick Daily announces some new galleries. Check out Weldon Arts.

June 30, 2012

3 Galleries Close in Bushwick

Bushwick Daily announces the closure of Famous Accountants, 950 Hart, and Botanic. I may have been early to Williamsburg, but I was late to Bushwick. Our gallery is one month old today. So my hat goes off to those who started the gallery scene in Bushwick and made my job just a little bit easier. We wish these curators massive success and fulfillment in their next endeavors.

June 23, 2012

First Sale!

Mari Oshima, Metro Card, paper, glue, metro card. 5 x 7 in. 2011

We are pleased to announce that the gallery made its first sale this afternoon. Although some sales of artists' works occurred before we opened, this is our first sale since the gallery officially opened on June 1st. It is, therefore, our first sale out of the gallery as such.

Mari Oshima created "Metro Card" for a show called "Single Fare 2", a large group show of small works on used metro cards. Single Fare took place last year at Sloan Fine Art in the Lower East Side. This was a very popular event that many may remember. Congratulations, Mari!

Single Fare, a show of small works on used metro cards
Sloan Fine Art press release
Single Fare Opening Day
Mari Oshima's website
Mari Oshima's page on this website

June 19, 2012

Jan Holthoff in "Guest List" at Lehr Gallery, Cologne

Three represented artists at Lehr Zeitgenössische Kunst in Cologne show their works opposite three guest artists. Jan Holthoff invited his colleague Ildefons Höyng, who like Holthoff studied at the Düsseldorf Academy.  The website explains that while Holthoff's romantic landscapes integrate representation and abstraction, Höyng's color field paintings explore the limits of the picturesque without falling into representation. Höyng was a master student of Gerhard Richter. The show runs through July 28.

June 15, 2012

Yay! We Have a Doorbell !

Dial "312" and you will reach the gallery by intercom. My apologies to anyone who may have tried to visit us and couldn't get in. Up until now it has been necessary to call me on my cellphone in order to get into the gallery, even during opening hours. We put the cart a little bit before the horse on certain logistical matters in our rush to open during Bushwick Open Studios. In fact, we have yet to paint the walls. But we're getting there fast.

June 11, 2012

Humann Moves to "Affiliated" After Talks with his Gallery

We are not surprised. It was a known possibility. And we are overjoyed to be affiliated with Richard Humann. He is now "affiliated" not "represented." It initiates as well for us a new and needed category at the gallery. We are now officially in a "creative collaboration" with Richard, but not under any contract with him.

As an aside, I only have one signed contract with an artist at the moment. I established at the outset that we have until September to talk business. And so far it's been all thumbs up.

June 8, 2012

Gili Levy

One of our artists, Gili Levy, gleaned several mentions in the media during Bushwick Open Studios, including one in The New York Times, and one from our favorite writer on the Brooklyn Paper, Aaron Short. Other mentions appeared in Blouin Art Info, Bushwick Daily, and Structure and Imagery.

June 7, 2012

Inaugural Show

The inaugural show of our new gallery was a resounding success. We had good support early on from the community, good buzz, and great attendance. It took place over the weekend of Bushwick Open Studios, and we were listed in among the "top 15" galleries and studios to visit during the open studio weekend. Really a very thrilling weekend overall. THANK YOU to all of you who came out to support us and see the art. Visit us for more pics and info at the gallery and on Facebook.

One of our artists, Rafael Fuchs (aka "Fuchs of Bushwick") performs a night action while all of Germany looks on via the ZDF TV station. Friday night, June 1, 2012

May 18, 2012

Abstract Painting ... of all People!

The Art of Gili Levy

Islands oil on canvas 2012

In this essay from May 2012, I discuss Gili Levy’s work in terms of “abstraction.” Since then I’ve realized the word has almost no meaning any more. I have since taken to calling the general gist of this work “transparent narrative.” It is not strictly abstract — that is, non-objective — for there is figuration and perspectival space here as well. In any case, it is an education for me, and I credit Gili Levy for introducing me and my gallery to the endlessly fascinating painting scene in Bushwick, Brooklyn. (ep, Sept. 2012)

gouache on paper 14 x 17 in. 2012

In the past ten years or so we have been seeing “abstract” or non-objective paintings that have the alacrity of conceptual art. Paintings are now being made that advance abstraction as a universal shorthand for esthetic life. This is not the defensive kind of abstract painting that seeks only to uphold the cult, but something more ambitious, more outgoing. We see paintings that hoover up discourses that not long ago were the purview of specialized “avant gardes” that avoided painting in general and abstraction in particular.

The new abstract painters are many and prolific, and they are taking to the stage of the canvas in ways that recall the first half of the last century, and make the “return of painting” in the 1980s look like a false start.

Abstract painting has a paradoxical and problematic place in modern art. It was at the font of modernity, at the birth of the avant garde. And then it was its nemesis, that content-free “safe” kind of painting of the McCarthy era and of the corporate art of the sixties and seventies. It has provided the most brilliant and the most boring events on canvas of the past hundred years.

To be sure, abstract painting has provided every decade with marvelous pictures, but it has only really rocked a few decades. It has spent long interludes as a cloistered and very demanding form of art, and it has come in frequently for bruising criticism on account of “lack of content.” Yet this is also the painting that launched high modernism in Europe and that put America on the international art map. It is the painting that gave to art a new and ineffable world.

Dancer oil on canvas 60 x 36 in. 2008
And how interesting that in our own time, when these very narratives of modern art, abstract art, avant garde art, and the historical tensions between them … have all come in for a kind of global meltdown in a brave new world, that it should be abstract painting — “of all people!” — that would now appear to be coming along to sort it all out.

And I think this aspect of “sorting things out” is what separates the present generation of abstract painters from the old schools. The navigational problems are more acute. There is a larger and rather different field of impulses and elements to integrate. There are greater pressures on the vocabulary of abstraction. Old muscles must be stretched and new muscles must be grown.

One Man Show 1 oil on canvas 60 x 72 in. 2009

The first thing I ask when I look at a contemporary abstract painting, is whether it is really an abstract painting, or just another presentational dodge in the “style” of abstraction. I look, in other words, not for artifact, not for “color” or “composition” or “balance,” and certainly not for cheeky references, but for character and intelligence. And then for a process that is convincing on some level.

I am convinced by the work of Gili Levy. She has introduced me to the work of most of the new abstractionists, and it is her work that satisfies more than most what I have come to value and expect in this kind of painting.

Levy is a relentless painter. One has the sense of paint being heaved and deployed almost violently, to trump our habits of viewing and get to the bones of a psychological process. What distinguishes her work, her signature style you might say, and what makes her paintings real abstraction and not stylized abstraction, is that Levy does not settle on novelty. The paintings “hide from the first viewer” as a philosopher once said. The impulse to “newness” for its own sake is denied, or put in abeyance, in the interest of directing the viewer to a genuine experience.

— Ethan Pettit, 18 May 2012

May 10, 2012

thirty9 – the work of Richard Humann

Salt of the Earth Richard Humann
won by the author at the wagmag Benefit Raffle
on May 8, 2012. Photo by Paul Behnke

Humann's Lightbox is an assemblage of the portfolio slides of Brooklyn artists in the late 90s, just as archiving was going digital. Eighteen display boxes for more than 300 individual slides, it is a trenchant work of social art, deployed in Humann's signature furniture-grade birch plywood. “I chose slides because they are the currency of artists, and I wanted the currency as the art itself.”

A funny thing happened to me at the Wagmag Benefit Art Raffle at the Boiler in Greenpoint last night. The way the raffle works is, you buy a ticket for $200. For that you are guaranteed one of the works hanging in the cavernous space, of which there were more than a hundred. The sooner your ticket is drawn from the bin, the larger the selection of art you have to choose from.

It is a bracing event, a benefit to support Wagmag, the must-have guide to art galleries across Brooklyn. The raffle has been going annually for a number of years, and has become a key social event in the Brooklyn art world; a kind of barometer of the scene and of the overall quality of work being made. There appear to have been considerably more works contributed by artists than there were tickets sold, so there is an element of competition to be sure. Presumably, at the end of the evening you’d just as soon not see your work still hanging on the wall. And if you are a well-known artist, you probably won't.

Daniel Aycock of Front Room draws a ticket at the raffle

I am starting a gallery of my own in "Bushwick" and a few of the artists I’m representing had contributed work to the raffle, as did some artists who are just friends. So I had a few people in mind as I entered the massive Boiler space on a shabby-chic street on the Greenpoint waterfront. As it happens, coming up right behind me at the entrance was the artist Richard Humann. “Richard” I said. “How auspicious. I had you in mind when I bought my raffle ticket.”

In the lost decade between Gowanus in the early 80s and the warehouse movement of early 90s Williamsburg, Richard Humann occupies an interesting place. He is probably the first conceptual artist in Williamsburg. Granted, his work was cooler and cleaner, more "classical" than the baroque science fiction of the environments who engulfed the neighborhood in the 90s. There is more 70s minimalism in Humann's early Brooklyn work, whereas we find more of a "bladerunner" aesthetic in the warehouse movement. Appreciable stylistic differences. And yet art in this neighborhood that has been provocative about space seems to begin with Richard Humann.

My raffle ticket and the list of artists with work in the raffle.
A total coincidence.

Anyway. The funny thing that happened is this. I discovered that my raffle number happened to be the same as the number indicating Humann's place on the list of participating artists. Unless I am missing something about how this raffle works, this could only have been pure chance. The list of artists is arbitrary, it does not correspond to the raffle number you happen to get — as this picture might suggest. And in any case, when your number is drawn, you get whatever you want that's still hanging on the walls. In this case, my number was 39, and the work I wanted was by Richard Humann, who happened to be number 39 on the list.

The sculpture I won, Salt of the Earth, even resembles a raffle bin. It is a standard saltshaker filled with tiny letters that seem to have been snipped out of a book or text of some kind. It alludes to randomness, chance, and the “aleatoric” in art as I think John Cage put it. I am really quite pleased with my take. Humann is no slouch, the piece clicks.

six33 a five-foot square, 9-inch deep panel of Baltic birch wood,
painted with flat black and gloss white enamel,
with flexographic ink transfer type burnished to the surface.
Art in the Urban Matrix, FFA Gallery, 1989

In 1989 I was in a show in Greenpoint with Humann called Art in the Urban Matrix. Part of his work for that show involved numbers. Numbers encompass the entire idea. In square panels, a number appears, partly as a word and partly in numerals, to acknowledge the spoken sound as well as the digit. "Numbers were chosen," says Humann, "because they allow, much more than words, the viewer the opportunity to make a decision based on his or her own experiences. I originally listed pages of words and phrases, but they were too powerful."

Art in the Urban Matrix, 1989, PDF Download

In the early days, Richard was absorbed with language and signs, his work was astringent, precise, he had an architect’s eye for every detail of the material and conditions of the work. It was very straight-edged for Williamsburg in those days. The “Humann factor” was always an enigma in the local art scene. Why was he so influenced by minimalism and language art, when the news on the street was that we had all been “liberated” from that reductive theology? Hadn’t he heard that “one-liners” were over, and now we needed to immerse ourselves in painting and environmental art?

But Humann stuck with his shorthand and honed it, and the result is a body of work that is limpid, poetic, and of great range in form and subject matter. He was not typical of Williamsburg artists 20 years ago, minimalism was not fashionable, but he took a gamble on his overarching and suspended style of presentation, and it has got him a big space in the field. Richard Humann is the artist who saved conceptual art from postmodernism, the one who has given a second life to "Idea Art" and American conceptualism.

Shelter late 1980s

This was the first time I’d ever been to this raffle, so I was aimless, and basically just making for the absinth-spiked punch bowl manned by the sizzling hipstress in the racy outfit. The place was packed and I quickly became absorbed in socializing, so I managed only a cursory glance at the art on the walls. When my ticket was called, I had no idea what was still available. “Richard Humann!” I yelled out on impulse. And I received a sculpture by an artist who is not only a friend but also a well known artist.

Humann is a dark horse with pedigree. It is because he has been in the Brooklyn scene longer than most, and because he has such a distinctive style, that he stands aloof from much that comes after him. And yet his work resonates in many places in Williamsburg over the course of 30 years. He is a gallery heavy, a veteran of the Venice Biennial, and a contemporary of the foundational Greenpoint school of painters like Chris Martin and Peter Acheson. But his work also anticipates by about half a decade the forceful engagement with space and installation that would engulf the neighborhood from 1989 onward in the work of artists like Lauren Szold, Dennis Del Zotto, and the Immersionists. He tracks two major currents in the formation of Williamsburg art, that of the studios and of the warehouses, and for that I think there's no question that Brooklyn owes Richard Humann a winning ticket.

Wave Swinger bass wood, 22.5" x 36" x 43". 2008

Silently For Me Kaohsiung International Container Arts Festival, Taiwan, December 2011