Gay City: SVA Retrospective

Beginning Here: 101 Ways

Curated by Jerry Saltz

Visual Arts Gallery

601 West 26 Street Suite 1502

A version of this review was published in Gay City News

Jerry Saltz probably has a lot of apologies to make.  Not even one hundred and one artists was enough to represent all those who have passed through the doors of the School of Visual Arts—and the overall impact the school has had.  Certainly, half a page will be nowhere near enough to cover the volume of work in Saltz’s curatorial effort, which spans recent work by artists who attended SVA, for the most part, in the last twenty-five years.  Due to Saltz’s smooth curation, there’s not a weak work in the lot—and, almost lamentably, not even a jarring moment.

While other art schools often have a style of their own, SVA, now only a few blocks from Chelsea and the center of the New York art world, has allowed its students to be fed as much by the time they were in as by a dogmatic aesthetic.  A late seventies and early eighties graffiti style is represented by artists such as Tim Rollins and Keith Haring (who was posthumously awarded his MFA in 2000) and an East Villagey aesthetic is engendered by a burly 1979 work by Kenny Scharf, “Hydrogen is God” (acrylic on found object).  Still, the illustrative/trade school nature of SVA is readily discernable in the prurient ink-on-paper renderings of Yuko Shimizu, and the architectural distortions of Robert Lazzarini’s sketched objects.  Barnaby Furnas, with his space age watercolors—part abstraction, part early twentieth century illustration—fits into the assertion with equal facility, as does Doug Wada and his trompe l’oeil fire hydrant and orange cone.  Even Sol LeWitt (whose 1953 study of illustration at SVA predates the other hundred artists in the show—is Lewitt number 101?) with his on-site editions and a mode of installation that transcends the participation of the artist, speaks to an industrial world where art is manufactured.

While the sculptural inclusion is light, Saltz has no trouble pointing up a pop alacrity of under-drawing in photography, digital media, film and painting.  Wolfgang Staehle’s “Berlin Pan” demonstrates a high degree of mental draftsmanship in an apparently candid, mechanically mediated DVD city-scape.  Frank Holliday’s acrylic-oil-marker-on-canvas “Barcelona” is a tough, effortless mandate of color as color and composition as composition; it is the lack of analogs (red=angst, splattered paint=freedom, etc,) that has allowed for the recent explosion of the painted surface.  Not too long ago a discussion of illustration and abstraction would have been almost impossible; today that discussion is an assumption of a larger integration of pop, abstraction and figuration. 

A strong curatorial presence provides Beginnings with the scope of a museum retrospective—yes, SVA is creeping up on 60.