Things have changed in the age of self-love and reality shows. Just how free artists feel to express themselves (and their self-possession) is immediately apparent in "Bodies of Desire," an exhibition organized by independent curator Klaus Ottmann for the Locks Gallery that pairs a selection of the abstract expressionist's "Women" with the charcoal drawings of Chloe Piene, a young, Brooklyn-based artist.
On one side of the room, de Kooning's fleshy valkyries look like colorful blurs of promiscuity painted by a man for other men; on the other, Piene's clinically descriptive yet also slightly erotic black-and-white drawings of herself nude seem to be inviting only her own gaze (they're based on Piene's photographs of herself).
De Kooning's pre-politically correct "Women" seem uncannily contemporary, not the least of them Woman (1966), painted on a page of the March 10, 1966, New York Times that has ads for Dean Martin in The Silencers and the Elizabeth Arden Salon's Babe Paley-ish "Goya" coif. Piene is a Spartan next to de Kooning, her edgy line and solemn, almost deathly poses reminiscent of Egon Schiele.
As Ottmann reminds us in his essay for the show, the New York art world of the 1950s viewed de Kooning's "Women" as a scandalous departure from the abstraction he'd been practicing. The female form, even as expressionistic as de Kooning's ladies were, had no place in heroic abstract expressionism. Conversely, this exhibition made me think of how difficult it must be to be working with a subject that has the complete, unquestionable endorsement of the contemporary art establishment, as Piene is, and to stand out as she does.
Locks Gallery, 600 Washington Square South, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. 215-629-1000 or www.locksgallery.com. Through
Too often, I've left shows at Gallery Siano wishing that this gallery would not try so hard to fill up its expansive space. Granted, the gallery has too many rooms, some large and some small, but there has to be a solution, like removing a few drywall partitions. I can imagine a fantastic one- or two-person exhibition there, especially of large sculpture or installations. That said, the four painters whose works are hanging there now look great together. All four are involved in varying degrees and styles of abstraction, but the overall effect is seamlessness without blandness.
Rebecca Saylor Sack's large, lyrical oil paintings, which give the impression of being based on landscapes that have long since surrendered to weeds, vines, growth, and decay, are paeans to the physicality of painting, and display her agile brushstrokes and sensitivity to color.
Alex Paik's candy-colored geometric paintings incorporating cartoon and game images, which occupy the gallery's other front space, are sweet, unpretentious, and even a little elegant.
The two artists in the back galleries, Catherine Gontarek and Miriam Singer, take their cues from their urban environments in very different ways, although both employ a template of sorts that can be altered.
Gontarek's is the larger template. Her paintings suggest views through windows of modernist architecture at night. It seems to me that Gontarek could work on a much larger scale than she is now, and also minimize or consolidate her imagery so that her paintings are more alike.
Singer is obviously influenced by untrained artists of the past and by trained artists who have emulated outsiders, but she has her own style of dense, obsessively drawn, maplike compositions of streets and buildings that are drawn in marker over sheets of paper that have already been subject to her monotype, wood block, and lithography printing. Singer could make more of light and dark to emphasize passages between places than she does now, but her work is the most mesmerizing of the four in this show.
Gallery Siano, 309 Arch St., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. 215-629-2940 or www.gallerysiano.com. Through Feb. 24.