Being Realistic About Abstract Art

Lee Gatch, Thespian Night

“Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult,” said Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), often referred to as the father of abstract painting. “It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and colors, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential.”

Curator Margaret O’Reilly uses Kandinsky’s quote as the jumping off point for Abstract Expressions: Selected Works from the New Jersey State Museum at The College of New Jersey Art Gallery January 27 through February 28, with an opening reception January 27, 5-7 p.m. On view are works by Mel Edwards, Lee Gatch, Yayoi Kusama, Louise Nevelson and many others.

“When people hear ‘abstraction,’ they think of Jackson Pollock,” says O’Reilly, “or art with no subject. They think ‘I can do that.’ But it’s not so simple. It was groundbreaking Continue reading

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Copper Belly of the Buddha

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The Brooklyn studio of Ursula von Rydingsvard is redolent of cedar. For more than 30 years she has been incising monumental cedar forms using a hand-wielded chainsaw. Wearing black pants and turtleneck, von Rydingsvard, 73, runs up and down a flight of steel stairs all day, as well as climbing ladders to look inside her sculpture, before taking a taxi home to her husband, neuroscientist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Greengard.

All around are the 4-by-4-inch cedar beams the sculptor works with. Her abstract shapes are like vessels and suggest primitive dwellings, Continue reading

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Expression in Stone

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Visitors to Grounds For Sculpture observe how Magdalena Abakanowicz’s “Space of Stone”–a work that itself conveys a greater power–is enhanced by the long shadows of the sun sitting low in the sky.

Part of a series that includes major installations in Italy, Korea, Lithuania and Poland, the work seeks to “change sculpture from object to look at to space to experience,” writes the world-renowned sculptor. “I am confronting the imagination of man with the imagination of nature… What is the meaning of man’s creativity in comparison with nature’s wisdom? This coming together of two different powers creates the space to contemplate.

“Sculpture does not decorate but is part of the metaphoric language which conveys more than we can express in words,” she continues. “We must enter it, penetrate, become part. We learn about our scale and the scale of the surroundings.”

One way to get to “Space of Stone” is by walking through a red maple allée. Sunlight seeps Continue reading

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Finding Old Friends and New

IMG_6936The guards are back! Oh, yes, the living breathing ones, sure, but also Fred Wilson’s “Guarded View,” four headless mannequins made of wood, paint, steel and fabric, dressed as museum security guards, reflecting on the nameless identifies of those empowered to protect our cultural assets. On the day of the press preview for the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York’s Meatpacking District, a security guard leaning near the label for this work moved quietly out of the way when she saw, from my squinting eyes, Continue reading

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A Retrospective of Happy Accidents in Clay

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There are many ways to fall in love with Patricia Lange, beginning at the front lawn of her Hopewell home. Large, stainless steel modern sculpture and black Louise Nevelson-like formations keep company with circular enamel pieces that evoke the moon, and masks in mediums from aluminum to clay.

A grouping of clay masks leads you up a brick path to the front door, Continue reading

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Brooklyn’s Biggest Yard

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Standing on the rooftop of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, looking out on the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges spanning the East River, we see water towers, smokestacks and red brick housing below us, and Freedom Tower in the distance. It has been called the best Continue reading

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Celebrities and Ghosts Mingle


When Roman Polanski needed a building in which to set the satanic cults and witchcraft of the 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby, he chose the Dakota, at the northwest corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West. With its profusion of Gothic dormers and high gables, terra cotta spandrels and balconies, it suggested hidden passageways to the occult.

The Dakota also had a role in the 2001 Cameron Crowe film Vanilla Sky. Protagonist David Aames, played by Tom Cruise, owns two apartments in the Dakota, elegantly outfitted with Continue reading

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Red Hook, Brooklyn

Searching for my first New York apartment, I discovered Red Hook. I could barely afford anything on my editorial assistant salary — an apartment in Chelsea had the bathroom in the kitchen, and even Park Slope was beyond my means – but in this Brooklyn enclave I’d found a third-floor walkup with fluted columns separating the living room and dining room, and a view of the waterfront and lower Manhattan. Of the three bedrooms, one would be my darkroom and one would be my writing studio. I put down a deposit and Continue reading

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The Good Earth

New York City’s newest park, Freshkills – site of the former garbage dump – will soon be covered with native plants. The seeds for the wildflowers are being grown at St. Michaels Preserve in Hopewell.

When Olmsted and Vaux carved out a piece of Manhattan, and later Brooklyn, to create refuges of rolling hills, expansive meadows, wooded ravines, ponds and boathouses – the first landscaped parks in the U.S. – no one was thinking about non-native invasive plants like purple loosestrife and multiflora rose.

Today, a 30-year project is underway to convert New York City’s former Fresh Kills garbage dump – the world’s largest landfill, Continue reading

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Chronicling New Jersey with a Paint Brush

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After more than 40 years at Mercer County Community College, Professor of Fine Arts Mel Leipzig can claim a large swathe of the population as students. Many have gone on to successful art careers, citing him as a major influence.

When he runs into past students, the first question he often asks is, “Are you painting?”

At least one of those students turned the question on him shortly after Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012, when the lights went out for a week in his Glen Afton neighborhood: “Are you painting?”

A week without electricity could not stop the zealous painter – he opened the window shades and worked by natural light. “The only thing was, Hurricane Sandy forced me to go Continue reading

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