Recommended Shows: Downtown, Michael Bell-Smith; Uptown, Saul Steinberg

by Corinna Kirsch and Whitney Kimball on October 15, 2014 Recommendations + Reviews

Michael Bell-Smith at Foxy Production

Michael Bell-Smith at Foxy Production

Rabbit Season, Duck Season

Foxy Production
623 W 27th St
Runs through November 26, 2014

On the Internet, text and images can be altered, rearranged and remixed. With Michael Bell-Smith’s fourth solo exhibition at Foxy Production, you get that feeling, too. The front gallery is full of “paintings,” and it looks a bit like an office showroom for MS Paint. Blue, orange, yellow, black, and gray brush strokes in vinyl have been pasted, like stickers, on sleek aluminum panels. The three look nearly identical. The only difference between them, it seems, is where the individual strokes have been pasted. Rearranging these clip-art type brushstrokes doesn’t enhance the final product: it only makes the paintings seem more generic. A handful of panels include the well-worn quote “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member” re-attributed to various cultural figures and celebrities like Morrissey and Thomas Jefferson. I was reminded of the fake quotes by famous people Tumblr, then of every single text-based meme that stays in distribution so long as people continue to alter the text. Is “interchangeability” key to the Internet’s banality? Bell-Smith has stumbled upon something here, although he doesn’t seem too excited about this theory’s prospects. –Corinna Kirsch

"View of the World from 9th Avenue", 1981 Ink marker and colored pencils on paper 14" x 11" (Image courtesy of Adam Baumgold Gallery)

“View of the World from 9th Avenue”, 1981
Ink marker and colored pencils on paper
14″ x 11″ (Image courtesy of Adam Baumgold Gallery)

Saul Steinberg, Works from the 50’s – 80’s

Adam Baumgold Gallery 
60 East 66th Street
Through November 1st

This show is a little bit of a grab bag, which is pretty typical for Adam Baumgold Gallery (this one is just called “Works from the 50’s – 80’s”). But if all you want to do is flip through an artist’s portfolio (and sometimes that’s kind of a relief), then take ten minutes to get a little overview of drawings by the ever perplexing Saul Steinberg, a New Yorker cartoonist who would turn 100 this year .

Steinberg is known for having described himself as “a writer who draws”, which is evident in the puzzle-like intellectualism of his sketchy ink line drawings. For example, Steinberg’s Man Carrying Question Marks (1965) is a spare outline of a man with a cloud of question marks emanating from his head. The situation is, simply, a question.

The open-endedness sets Steinberg apart from a lot of the super-sleek contemporary graphic artists such as Charles Burns, or Chris Ware (also represented by Baumgold). Here, several works highlight Steinberg’s interest in mapmaking and nonsensical documents, which read like open-ended sentences: a diploma, covered only in calligraphic scrawls; maps, diagrams, and landscapes with strange and vague ending points. His interest in territories of the imagination is particularly evident in a rudimentary sketch version of his famed New Yorker cover, “View of the World From 9th Avenue”. The sketch depicts the entire world beyond the city as a hazy field of mush.

The version at Adam Baumgold Gallery was made five years after the original was published; on the bottom, we can see that Steinberg had scrawled a “Happy Birthday” note to a friend. The personal touch acts as a reminder that these aren’t just commissioned assignments– a true delight in ideas shared by friends or anybody who’s willing to entertain them. –Whitney Kimball

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: