Welcome to ArtsGazing

Selecting the best of New York City’s arts scene

What do we talk about when we talk about abstract art? Do we describe it as a lack of recognizable imagery, a messy surface on a canvas, calling an artwork ‘Untitled’ or worse, ‘Untitled #24’? Or is it that oldie but goodie of overhearing someone say ‘My kid could do that’ (although we’d be happy to hear someone say ‘My dog could do that’ because then we could answer, ‘Maybe not a dog, but did you know there are elephants who do that?”)?

Well, it’s all those things but another way to approach the problem is by looking at what it isn’t. Contrary to popular belief, abstract art is not produced with wild abandon – that kind of thing is for the movies. Good abstract art is a controlled production, even a collaboration between the maker and the material. Understanding the canvas and its interaction with a chosen medium, knowledge of color theory, and having a variety of methods available to make markings on the canvas are just the beginning of the artist’s work. When all that comes together, abstract art can express emotion, tempo, and flow to anyone standing in front of it. Looking at a reproduction won’t work; in fact, we’ve always thought the real reason so many people just don’t like abstract art is because it doesn’t photograph well. The subtle detail of brushstrokes, gradations of color, size of the canvas, and the play of light over the surface are all lost in a photo, resulting in a flat dull thing no one could love.

But if you really want to know and understand why abstract art is interesting, you’ve got to see it in person. To get you started, we’re featuring three artists working in various styles within the movement: Pat Passlof, Mary Obering, and Leon Berkowitz. Each person pushed themselves to constantly learn, experiment, and keep their work moving in new directions – all hallmarks of great art and truly creative minds. Pat Passlof (showing at The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation) was one of the earliest Abstract Expressionist painters, the artists who wanted to convey ideas and emotions without resorting to representational imagery. Mary Obering (at Bortolami) has been interested in the ideas of the Minimalists for decades, her work focuses strongly on the interplay of color and geometric form to produce illusions of space and depth. Leon Berkowitz (now at Hollis Taggart) is considered part of the Color Field movement, although his work has subtle differences of brushwork and paint application techniques than others working in that format. After seeing these three exhibits, we hope you’ll find yourself wanting to see more abstract work – because there’s always more out there.