Haim Chanin Fine Arts, April 25 – June 13, 2009
A word like “revelatory” should be used advisedly, but there really isn’t a better way to describe Pierrette Bloch’s current exhibition at Haim Chanin Fine Arts. While the very presence of her work is noteworthy—this is the first time that Bloch, at 80 years old, has shown in the United States since 1951—what this exhibition reveals is how far one artist can go in pursuit of the essential, and what it looks like when she grasps it.
For decades, Bloch has streaked, dripped, and blotted ink on paper or Isorel, a highly frangible type of chipboard. Occasionally she would collage maculated scraps together, or add strokes of graphite or pastel, but never in a color other than black. Or else she would turn to the unlikely material of horsehair, weaving it into diaphanous sheets or tying it into a tightly curling, impossibly long strand. The titles of her works reflect either what they’re made of (“Ink on Isorel”) or what they are (“Horsehair Sculpture”).
You may have noticed I’ve avoided applying the words “drawing” or “painting” to Bloch’s art; the uniqueness of her work renders such categorizations irrelevant while challenging their underlying assumptions. She uses the materials of drawing, at least in terms of the Western tradition, with freshness and spontaneity, yet each work conveys the conceptual density and distanced facture we associate with painting. Given her work’s physical fragility and the stark minimalism of her mark-making, this totality of expression is the most extraordinary, and radical, aspect of her work. By stripping her means to the graphical sine qua non of black ink on white paper, she courts meaninglessness every time she raises her brush, yet the uncanny exactitude of her drips and strokes conjures a spectrum of emotion from crippling grief to unbridled joy.
Although Bloch is of a generation that came of age in war-torn France, to yoke her work to existentialism feels as glib as linking it to second-generation Abstract Expressionism or to Minimalism, which it straddles chronologically and stylistically. It is so grounded in a specific set of materials that it defies the notion of a literary provenance, and it is so concerned with the act of art-making that if feels equally indifferent to a prevailing idiom or a formal critique. Its tension arises from an ink membrane drying on a fibrous surface, or a horsehair pulled taut. Its thingness is both its sum and its reduction; anything beyond that is wreathed in clouds of conjecture.
A Word or Two on Art and TechnologyBy Charlotte Kent
MAY 2023 | Editor's Message
The words we bring to art intend, at best, to translate the perceptual realm into the linguistic, anchoring sensation through definition. But, as we all know, that often doesnt occur. The well known essay, International Art English by Alix Rule and David Levine skewers that premise, as does Tom Wolfes The Painted Word (1975) nearly forty years earlier, and a decade before that Susan Sontags Against Interpretation resisted languages simulacrum of art. So on, down the line. And yet, words also serve to support, promote, highlight, associate, and adore the art they describe.
Farewell to the F-Word?
By Paul Mattick
Bruce Kuklick's Fascism Comes to America
MARCH 2023 | Field Notes
As part of an early stage of these developments, fascism still seems useful to learn about, though Kuklick may be right to urge us to commit the F-word to the historical dustbin. Even he seems to understand why his advice is unlikely to be taken.
Comparative Hell: Arts of Asian UnderworldsBy Ann McCoy
APRIL 2023 | ArtSeen
In an age when few dread eternal damnation and the torments of hell no longer function as a deterrent to bad behavior, a stunning exhibition at the Asia Society Museum expands our knowledge of this infernal nether region.
Center for Book ArtsBy Megan N. Liberty
MARCH 2023 | ArTonic
Wandering around the flower district of Manhattan, you may be surprised to see a green flag hanging high above the flowers, signaling the location of the Center for Book Arts (CBA) on the third floor, where it has been located since 1999. As artist and designer Ben Denzer recently wrote to me, Despite coming and going to CBA all the time, I can never really get over how much of an unexpected gem it is. The fact that this book utopia is hiding on the third floor of a random building on 27th street has always made me look at all NYC buildings as if each might contain delightful secrets inside.