Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Substantial, Compelling Paintings by Andrea Cukier and Florencia Fraschina

by Rimas Uzgiris

The two-woman show by Andrea Cukier and Florencia Fraschina at the Argentine Consulate presents two contemporary Argentine painters whose work is deeply rooted in Argentina’s urban culture, albeit in entirely different ways.

Andrea Cukier, now a resident of New York City but raised and trained as an artist in Buenos Aires, is a painter of suggestive atmospheres. She paints light through mist, humid air, harbors and dilapidated shorelines. She takes inspiration from the painters of La Escuela de La Boca, a group of mostly Italian immigrants to Buenos Aires who often depicted sections of their working-class neighborhoods, including the nearby waterfront. Cukier’s “Broken Passage” is a masterful portrayal of a shattered, chaotic shoreline. The sense of mist and moisture pervades both sky and water so thoroughly that it is hard to see where one ends and the other begins. All things seem to be dissolving into the elements of earth, air and water. The painting is almost wholly abstract. And even though, on the one hand, entropy seems to dominate, on the other hand, there is a tremendous sensitivity to light, which suffuses the clouds and mist and water with a glow that feels almost redemptive, albeit earthy. Other works, notably “Late Storm” and “Evening Light”, may be more representational, but are equally intriguing, depicting the play of clouds, smoke and light in canvasses dominated by sky. Human civilization is suggested with no more than the rooftops of city buildings, barbed wire, and churning black smoke. There is always a threat looming in these subtly dramatic paintings, but there is hope as well—whether in the form of light, or in a fleck of black paint like a bird fleeing the looming darkness. One cannot look at her paintings without being entranced by the complex interplay of grays, whites and blacks. One might say that in her work we have the late Turner in 21st century New York City by way of an urban sensitivity cultivated in La Boca.

On the opposite side of this warm, wood-paneled room hangs the work of Florencia Fraschina, a painter based in Buenos Aires. Fraschina draws her inspiration from entirely different sources. If Cukier reminds us of Turner by way of La Boca, Fraschina’s work brings us the spirit of Hopper by way of Kahlo. Her paintings are a symphony of saturated colors, populated by voluptuous women, often in various states of undress. Like so many paintings by Hopper, they suggest stories. The depicted characters express complex emotional states, and their situations are often enigmatic, sometimes even sordid. The exceptional “El Descanso” depicts a man and a woman in a tub. The woman is enormous, and the man thin and frail. He nestles inside of her legs and breasts, smoking a cigarette, looking up at the ceiling. Is he satisfied, or a bit intimidated—even a bit scared? Is her expression motherly? Or is there the hint of a smirk? Fraschina does not give us easy answers about her characters’ inner lives. Their charm is in their mystery. The paintings shimmer with color—extraordinary blues, bright pink, serene green. One especially harmonious piece is “La Costurera”: a woman, also large, but fully clothed, sews. Her expression is calm and focused, a bit sad as well. The painting is a symphony of blue, yellow, and red, and it is peaceful in its domestic melancholy. Similarly domestic, and quite poignant, is “Almorzando con Mirta”, named after a popular Argentine TV program. An old woman, dressed in black (a nun?) sits at a table, eating (soup? gruel?) from a bowl. She faces a television whose screen shows a young woman with golden hair. In the otherwise drab apartment, the only other color highlight comes from the halo in the painting above the mantle—thereby uniting the old, kitschy painting with the modern television program in a provocative way. Other details also draw us in to this woman, her story, her emotional life: a pair of elephant figurines, a wedding couple statuette. Fraschina makes us yearn for the human, for the true connection to the other, even as she problematizes our ways of relating to self and other through her depiction of pop culture and religious symbols. It is rare to see such social commentary come through a painting so subtly, and with so much feeling for the simple and solitary human life.

This show is a reminder that profound and emotionally gripping art is still being made in an age of shallow postmodernism, and it is being made with talent, craft, subtle intelligence, and a connection to history that is both revealing and progressive.

Andrea Cukier and Florencia Fraschina: Paintings are on display at the Consulate General of Argentina in New York, 12 W 56th St. (5th/6th Aves.) through April 10.

Advertisements

March 22, 2012 Posted by | Art, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Art Review: The WAH Center Does It Again

Another pretty amazing group show up at the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center. This one features a “younger generation” of women born after 1950, up through the end of May. Many highlights, probably as many as last year’s vastly diverse exhibit.

 

Nivi Alroy contributes an intense collection of mixed media, notably a tall (seven-foot) sculpture of a bombed-out house sitting in an upturned dresser drawer, the scorched face of a stuffed rabbit fixing its stare from a second story window. There’s also a rustic woodcut of a collapsing industrial area juxtaposed with a reflection below, a daguerreotype-style view of workers staring at themselves in the water. Andrea Cukier has three green-tinted, stylized medieval Chinese-inflected pondscapes: as with so much of her work, she makes the heat and humidity visceral.

 

Shan Shan Sheng has a number of strikingly colorful, heavy glass sculptures here including an absolutely haunting, orange-tinted undersea scene and a couple of massive bells, one of them abruptly upturned. Bahar Behbahani has both a murky, out-of-focus wallsize umber-tinged portrait of a family staring out from their couch, Arabic calligraphy and musical notes floating overhead, as well as an unsettling 3-D piece, a dense mandala-like figure on a screen a couple of inches above a second, painted level, obscuring more calligraphy and a dead sheep on its back.

 

Even more provocative were a series of bombs (their noses, to be precise, seemingly fashioned from restaurant-sized carbon dioxide canisters) by Leonor Mendoza. Adorned with earrings, peace signs, an animal figurine, lockets, charms, and most ominously, melted green plastic peoploids, they’re poignant and as understated as bombs can be. 

 

Of the best-known artists on display here, Judy Chicago is represented by a trio of black-and-white woodcuts, the earth mother under siege, as well as a sculpture study from The Dinner Party, part of the plate eerily peeling back. There are also prints and a striking, colorful wallsize painted quilt depicting a jazz trio and its unperturbable frontwoman from Faith Ringgold.

 

But the most striking of all the images here was the live installation by Olek (Agata Oleksiak) and Naomi White. They’d positioned a group of people in colorful, full-body knitwear, their faces hidden, lazing around a living room, watching tv, the screen depicting the struggles of someone in an all-white bodysuit, seemingly in a lot of pain and trying to escape. Abu Graib, anybody? Talk about making an impact!

 

Over by the Nivi Alroy section, classical guitarist Margaret Slovak played warmly and virtuosically. You probably won’t get to hear her or be taken in by the Olek/Naomi White installation, but the show is a must-see if you’re in Williamsburg – it’s only a couple of minutes from the J/M stop at Marcy Ave., 135 Broadway on the south side of Williamsburg, about a block past Bedford as you walk toward the water. Hours are Saturday-Sunday noon-6 PM.

April 28, 2009 Posted by | Art, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Art Review: Andrea Cukier in Midtown

Shows like this are why we live in New York. This is someone who will be creating important and emotionally impactful art for a long time, the rare artist whose work will send you flying out into the street afterward with an elevated pulse and renewed passion for being alive. Argentinian expat Andrea Cukier’s work is defined by subtlety, yet packs a potently visceral intensity. To say that her collection of nebulous yet riveting oil paintings – on display at the Consulate General of Argentina through April 30- is captivating is the understatement of the year. Many of these works are pensive and stark, yet rich with emotion and sometimes longing. The artist has a special affinity for the port of Buenos Aires, several views of which are featured in this show.

Cukier’s unique vision makes liberal use of lush textures, subtle earthtone shades over a signature grey background. Another of her signature devices is to situate her point of view looking in from the shadows or somewhere hidden, whether it’s from behind clouds or in a thicket. At its best, Cukier’s work is quietly transcendent. When these paintings are representational – not all of them are – the view is jaggedly hazy, out of focus. Her clouds are thick with shades of white and grey, rather than opaque: they get in the way, or provide concealment. Ships’ masts rise, thin and frail, through the mists concealing what’s below. Vertical and horizontal lines snake their way through washes of shadow: is it barbwire, or the view of a town along the shoreline? Cukier has stated that she wants the viewer to be able to feel the humidity and the smell of the water, a goal whose ambitiousness is not as farfetched as it might seem (New York artist Pamela Talese does the same thing with brutal New York summer heat in her landscapes of industrial wastelands). It is impossible not to be drawn into the remarkable depth of these paintings, with their seemingly endless layers and minute variances of shade. In the distance, barely discernible, the ghost of Turner nods approvingly.

Overall, what is most impressive about this show is that as good it is, this isn’t even her best work – wait til you see what’s on her website. An appropriate soundtrack would be the eerie ambience of Jehan Alain or Radiohead. Or A Salty Dog by Procol Harum, at leat as far as the harborscapes are concerned.

Cukier also has a series of green-themed, Chinese-inspired watercolors here, mostly pondscapes, seemingly painted by an entirely different artist – they have absolutely no resemblance to her oils. While demonstrating a good eye for light and reflection and an ability to assimilate a very stylized technique (which also calls on the viewer to feel the heat and humidity), it’s been done before and just as well many dynasties ago.

At the Consulate General of Argentina, 12 W 56th St. through April 30, free admission Mon-Fri, 11 AM – 5 PM.

April 11, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Latest Williamsburg Salon Art Club Show

A pleasant reminder that group shows – this one fills two spacious floors at the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center – are the ideal lazy person’s way to discover exciting new work. There’s a tantalizing abundance of that here on display through February 24.

Three striking, large oils by the most likely pseudonymous Bienvenido Bones Banez blend 1960s-style psychedelic imagery with South Indian iconography, in a blazingly colorful style that recalls the best concert posters from the Fillmore West. Heads morph into two and three, viens bulge and bones are visible as in an x-ray. The two on display here, Asian and Harlot Playing Beast are an excellent representation. His related solo show runs through Feb 10 at Amarin Café, 617 Manhattan Ave. between Driggs and Nassau in Greenpoint.

One mystery star of the show – there was no indication on the wall who this might be – contributes a dollhouse in the style of an Old West brothel, an action figure sheriff leveling his gun at the back of the oversize doll atop the structure, a sign advertising “Vote for Honest G. W. Bush for Dog-Catcher” affixed to a side wall. There’s also a similar plastic sculpture featuring small plastic doll figures posed somewhat eerily in the windows and on the landing.

The most impressive work on display here is by Argentinian-American Andrea P. Cukier, who’s someone to keep your eye on. The two oils in this show are a good representation of her otherwise powerfully captivating paintings, many of which peer out from the shadows at an illumination whose source is never visible. The two on display here layer white over an obviously meticulously prepared, dark underlayer, perhaps barbwire as seen through a mist.

Lower East Side artist Carla Cubit has two very gripping mixed media sculptures assembled from found objects. The first is West African style, mostly in wood, depicting a widow with her babies, threatened by a spider and lizard. She holds a scroll unwound to a small portion of text: “I am no queen, I sit a widow I kan not walk my journey may end here…”

Brazilian surrealist painter Karla Caprali has three large oils on display. The best shows a woman diving headfirst from what appears to be the roof of the Sistine Chapel into the wild blue yonder of outer space. In another, a Latin woman (possibly the artist herself?) gazes with some trepidation out from behind flowers as jellyfish hover behind her, with an American flag, and then distant industrial towers looming further back.

Jeffrey Berman contributes two brightly sinister, somewhat photorealistic, psychedelic oils. The first depicts a skeleton onstage – at Altamont, maybe? – holding a melting Stratocaster guitar; the second seems to be a scene at a street race, the runners’ faces menacing and distorted, perhaps zombified.

Carol Quint, one of the organizers, is a proponent of recycling and reconstruction. Her sculpture here is macabre, death-obsessed and impossible to turn away from. There’s a skeleton in a lotus position, sitting in a rocking chair, and a skull with markedly messed-up, broken teeth sitting in a chair, with what appear to be fish vertebrae combed over its head like Rudy Giuliani’s hair. The third is a skeleton in a white puffy dress.

Japanese-American surrealist Junichiro Ishida’s complex, somewhat sci-fi oriented oils seem to be loaded with symbols from Asian mythology. On one of his pieces here, a flock of orange fireballs descends against a weird, nocturnal background, with an inscription below: “The world is always burning, burning with the fires of greed, anger and ignorance. One should flee from such dangers.” Another haunting painting is an undersea scene, a couple of fish lazing alongside a submerged skull/sea urchin hybrid.

Sam Jungkurth’s two big oils here are sinister floral tableaux, ominous blue/purple interiors whose only illumination is the flowers themselves, overshadowed by the darkness.

From all indications, Jennifer Herrera is an artist whose style is still developing, but one of her abstract paintings – which looks to be oil over gesso, creating a wrinkled effect – is a striking, somewhat ominous blend of lime green and orange against off-white.

There’s also a particularly creepy color shot by photographer Scott Weingarten – whose solo show here runs March 12-April 30 – superimposing a tree branch over a shot of a misty night in the woods, creating the effect of a ghostly child-face leering out of the background.

The show is on the second and third floor at 135 Broadway (corner of Bedford) in South Williamsburg, J/M/Z to Marcy Ave. or take the B61 bus which runs on south on Driggs toward Brooklyn Heights and on Bedford north through Williamsburg to Long Island City. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon to 6 PM and by appointment, 718-486-7372.

January 21, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments