Saturday, May 31, 2014

Morgan Library—Romantic Landscapes and Other Treasures

Caspar David Friedrich, Landscape on Rügen with Shepherds and Flocks, 1809/10.Pen and black ink, brown wash, graphite,
and opaque white watercolor.The Morgan Library & Museum; Thaw Collection
A Dialogue with Nature: Romantic Landscapes from Britain and Germany, at the Morgan Library through Sept 7, is a long title for a compact, stunning show of works on paper from the pinnacle of this somewhat forsaken genre. It feels as though landscape art has been stowed up in the attic for awhile, perhaps because its prevalence in the 18th through early 20th centuries exhausted its exploration. And this grouping of works, chosen from the collections of the Morgan and London's Courtauld Gallery and curated by Matthew Hargraves and Rachel Sloan, shows the sublime, daunting heights achieved. What peaks were left to conquer, in a way?

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Mont Blanc, from Above Courmayeur, ca. 1810. Watercolor and graphite, some drawing into the wet paint with a sharp point and extensive scraping out. The Courtauld Gallery, Samuel Courtauld Trust: Gift in memory of Sir Stephen Courtauld, 1974
Not only do representative works in the show display unsurpassed technique in accurately rendering elements of nature, their color, composition, and additional details reflect the visionary imaginations of this select group of artists. Many of the German artists, in the tradition of Dürer, wield a fine, descriptive line. Caspar David Friedrich exemplifies the romantic German perspective in Landscape on Rügen with Shepherds and Rocks (1809/10). The fauna—sheep, shepherd—are subsumed into the vales, and the edifice absorbed by the stand of trees. It is a peaceful, bucolic view of nature and man co-existing.

The British artists seemed to have a way with the vagaries of moody weather and natural phenomena. Constable apparently recorded weather conditions and noted cloud formations. Some of the show's works were done in the British Isles, but Turner, for one, travelled to Switzerland to create some of the sublime pieces at the Morgan—Mont Blanc, from Above Courmayeur (1810), Pass at St. Gothard, Near Faido (1843), and On Lake Lucerne, Looking Towards Fluelen (1841?), which borders on abstraction, it is so consumed by the interweaving of light, fog, and sea that looms ahead. These pieces presage the advent of impressionism and expressionism, and provide a firm link with high romanticism. They also depict a wary relationship with nature, warning of its power and ferocity.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Lucerne from the Lake, 1845.Watercolor, over graphite, with opaque watercolor, and scratching out
The Morgan Library & Museum; Thaw Collection
Another Turner, Lucerne from the Lake, 1845, very nearly shades into kitsch, with buildings reflected on the glassy surface, colorful boaters aforeground, mountains fading into the distant haze—again, a compatible view of nature and man. His technique is so facile, it's almost a distraction. And the label reveals how complex a process Turner actually followed: "Watercolor and graphite, some drawing into the wet paint with a sharp point and extensive scraping out." These are works on paper, don't forget. Who knows how much work went into his paintings.

In any case, the Morgan show is well worth visiting, a refreshing whirlwind tour of exotic landscapes in one gallery. Also on view: Miracles in Miniature: The Art of the Master of Claude de France, examples of the great French illuminator whose tiny paintings are sublime gems of mastery and meaning (through September 14). If you're not in New York, the Morgan has online archives of the Prayer Book, and many other fascinating online collections—true treasure troves.

Friday, May 30, 2014

What's the Inspiration for Jewels?

Abi Stafford and Jared Angle. Photo: Paul Kolnik
The official story about the inspiration for Jewels (1967) is that Balanchine visited Van Cleef and Arpels, saw the pseudonymous rocks (emeralds, rubies, diamonds), and started creating. (He apparently eschewed pearls and sapphires.) The glittering costumes, by Karinska, and somewhat cheesy sets by Peter Harvey, support the basic concept without hinting at any narrative. It is mostly about individual ballerinas, and a certain pro forma, female/male romanticism in the genre, and group patterning. 

Despite the assertive title, it's this very plotlessness that lends itself to perpetual guessing games about the true symbolism of Jewels. Here are a few theories.

Nationalities. "Emeralds'" music is by Fauré, ergo, France; "Rubies" is by Stravinsky, with whom Balanchine had one of mankind's most fruitful relationships in New York, so, America; and "Diamonds" is by Tchaikovsky = Russia.
Sara Mearns and Ask La Cour. Photo: Paul Kolnik

Soups. Spring greens, borscht, vichysoisse.

Seasons. Spring, summer, winter.

Ages of humankind. Youth, middle age, old age.

Musical and artistic styles. Impressionism, modernism, romanticism.

May 24th's New York City Ballet matinee yielded some suitably glittering performances. It has become such a reliable joy to watch Sara Mearns dance, here with Ask La Cour in "Diamonds," in what is a golden era for the company's women. Her amplitude, emotional generosity, technical ability, pliancy, projection, and conviction all elevate her above your typical excellent NYCB performance. At the close of the pair's big duet segment, she stopped, front and center before the final pose, her mouth forming a small "O" as if surprised or delighted. It was an unexpected detail, the kind which only burnishes Mearns' reputation as a ballerina for the ages. 

Ashley Bouder led "Rubies" with Gonzalo Garcia and Savannah Lowery. It was a revelation to see Bouder in the role. There is no arguing that her technique and speed are unparalleled within the company's women, but often when I watch her, her hyper precision and the way she's nearly ahead of the beat can come off as jittery hubris. Her expression can also read as too eager to please, the A student who knows all the answers. In "Rubies," she seemed to have cast aside the self-consciousness and coyness to sink deeply into the playful movement at hand. She also exuded an aura more diva-like than the charm school ingenue. Garcia, whose subtle charisma can fade in the big Koch theater, here invested his performance with more energy and focus than usual. Of course, the attack-filled role helped with that. Lowery is a natural for the Amazon role, her curvy legs always an intriguing picture, her grand jetes monumental, her Broadway ambitions percolating beneath the surface.

It was the last time I would see the Stafford siblings dance in proximity—Jonathan is retiring as of Sunday. Abi performed "Emeralds" with an old world elegance I hadn't seen from her, but again, it's a less common kind of role for her; she often dances soubrette parts. It also helped that Jared Angle partnered her; he always carries himself with nobility and dedication. The cool, mysterious Rebecca Krohn danced with Jonathan Stafford, a reliable squire, who will continue to teach and coach for the company. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Slapstick and Absorbing Formalism at ABT

Hee Seo and Marcelo Gomes in La Gaîté Parisienne.
Photo: Gene Schiavone
ABT's Classic Spectacular program is a palate cleansing bill of two Balanchine hits, plus La Gaîté Parisienne, a big old banana split of a ballet admirable for its insouciant emphasis on style over substance. This 1988 production of the 1938 one-act story ballet, by Leonide Massine to music by Offenbach, is staged by Lorca Massine with assistance from Susan Jones, and most memorable for the lavish costumes by Christian Lacroix. The womens' skirts are marvels of construction, structured to fit snugly at the hips before cascading into conical poofs underlaid by tulle, and in the case of the can can dancers, ruffled pastel underskirts. Details such as appliquéd gloves for the Glove Seller (Hee Seo) offer a visual abundance.

The men fare less well, costume-wise. Under a fuschia jacket, the Baron wears candy-striped tights, giving the apollonian Marcelo Gomes the appearance of abnormally big thighs. Other men wear beige plaid suits or baggy soldiers' uniforms; the Peruvian (Craig Salstein) an embellished, white satin getup, curlicued locks of hair decorating his cheeks.  

And what of the dance, you're wondering? Much of the movement is gesture, to define caricature in broad cartoon strokes. The Glove Seller is the mysterious, magnetic woman to whom all the men are drawn, and they tussle for her attention. Of course the Baron prevails, but now without some serious slapstick hilarity from the Peruvian. Salstein was born to play roles such as these, and is great fun to watch, though Misty Copeland as the Flower Girl (in place of Luciana Paris) is somewhat buried under all the frivolity. The can-can dancers have some fun with their kicks and splits, better to show off the ornate costumes.

Eric Tamm and Misty Copeland in Duo Concertant, © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo: Gene Schiavone
Artistic director Kevin McKenzie was wise to balance this puff piece with two of Balanchine's finest, Theme and Variations (1947), and the very different Duo Concertant, part of the 1972 Stravinsky Festival. T&V, a sibling work to the great Symphony in C, is an homage to imperial Russia. The leads on this night were both a bit of a surprise. Isabella Boylston danced in place of Gillian Murphy, fighting an injury; she was squired by Andrew Veyette, a guest from neighbor New York City Ballet. They complemented one another well physically, and both radiate great energy and charm, as well as being technical whizzes. The opening measures of Tchaikovsky's score are hummably dancy, and the pair exuded élan from the first notes.

Duo is quite familiar to regular NYCB fans, a staple of repertory that is a relatively brief work for duos of dancers and onstage musicians (piano and violin). It showcased Misty Copeland and Eric Tamm. Copeland makes clear shapes with her curvaceous legs, and is capacious and grand in her presentation. Tamm, handsome as a Ken doll, has excellent posture that might be slightly overly proper for this casual interplay of dance and music, but his line is geometric and assured. Interesting that Massine's ballet tells a story, albeit a slight one, while Balanchine's two dances largely formal ballets come across as substantial. Amidst a season of comfortable, sometimes threadbare ballet war horses, these repertory programs are welcome changes of pace.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Beauty, Beast, and Balanchine

It's high ballet season at Lincoln Center. Pretty amazing that on any given day, for the last half of May anyway, there might ostensibly be 5000+ people simultaneously watching ballet within a couple of square acres of Manhattan. Crazy, right? Notes on last week, when I saw NYCB's All Balanchine program and ABT's Don Quixote.

ABT's Don Quixote, May 16, Met Opera House
Paloma Herrera. Photo: Gene Schiavone

Bear with me while I descend to clichés: it starred Beauty (Paloma Herrera as Kitri) and the Beast (Ivan Vasiliev as Basilio). Herrera's cool charm and elegant lines nicely balanced his kangaroo-like jumps and leaps. Her center was clearly spot-on that night as she sustained ridiculously long, watch-checking balances. And no one can extend a leg in second and present a perfectly arched foot with such care.  

Vasiliev adds scissor splits to jetés, does three revolutions in the air instead of the standard two, holds Herrera overhead on one hand while  relevé-ing on one foot... things that have no terms because no one else does them. It's bizarre and sensational, but it pushes male ballet beyond the limit, and that's exciting if not always beautiful. They're an unlikely pairing, but that also makes for an interesting, quirky dynamic.

Veronika Part and James Whiteside danced the second featured parts of street dancer Mercedes and toreador. He is well-suited to this juicy, if brief, morsel of ham, with its taut-bow lines and bang-bang rhythms. She looked happy to be in this midi skirt-swishing role, less stressed out than she can while bearing the full weight of primary leads. Part also danced the Queen of the Dryads, magisterial, Amazonian, and elegant, in full tutu.  

NYCB's All Balanchine program, May 13, Koch Theater
The selection of repertory showcased the depth of corps members and soloists.
Lauren Lovette and Anthony Huxley in Raymonda Variations. Photo: Paul Kolnik
Raymonda Variations (1961) featured Lauren Lovette, clean and sparkling, with Anthony Huxley, technically a perfectionist, if slightly bloodless; could benefit from partnering work.

In The Steadfast Tin Soldier (1975), Erica Pereira and Daniel Ulbricht made the most of this mostly syrupy fable saved by a poignant ending. The part of a toy soldier suits Ulbricht—physically superhuman, but whose facial expressions can lack nuance. Good to see Pereira, a victim of the "lost soloist" syndrome.

Le Tombeau de Couperin (1975), a b/w leotard ballet inspired by the intricate interactions of Baroque dance, which could also be read as square or folk dance. Comprising two "quadrilles" of 16 corps members who perform four movements—it feels like work to watch, after a time, and one can only imagine the effort that went into choreographing it—but there's a warmth and graciousness to it that resists the affect of modernism. 
Le Tombeau de Couperin. Photo: Paul Kolnik

As I've likely written before, Symphony in C (1947) is the big test of major companies' depth, skill, and musicality, and among my favorite high classical Balanchine works. 
  • 1st movement: an injured Andrew Veyette was replaced with Zachary Catazaro to partner Tiler Peck. While Catazaro looks the part of a swain, he needs polishing and partnering rehearsal; all in due time.
  • 2nd movement: The luminous Teresa Reichlin glittered extra brightly with the relatively new crystal-encrusted costumes. Tyler Angle is a consistently brilliant, suave partner, but that seems to mean that he is cast with the taller, often more difficult to handle women, rather than those of a more suitable relative height (as is his similarly-skilled brother, Jared). A pleasant problem, indeed.
  • 3rd: Hey, there's the elusive Gonzalo Garcia!, dancing with corps member Ashly Isaacs, in the danciest section. They treated the lilting rhythms fairly lightly but suited one another well. 
  • 4th: This section is really more like half a movement, but it's always a pleasure to see Taylor Stanley's technical confidence and charisma; here he danced with Ashley Laracey, featured more and more often, with reason.
This week brings "Classic Spectacular," a mixed bill at ABT including La Gaieté Parisienne, and Jewels at NYCB.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Premieres at New York City Ballet—JP & JR

Andrew Veyette & Sterling Hyltin in Everywhere We Go. Photo: Paul Kolnik
New York City Ballet's recent premiere of Justin Peck's Everywhere We Go is a truly ambitious, symphonic-scale work to a 40-minute, nine-movement score by Sufjan Stevens. It confirms the building suspicion that we have ballet's latest big choreographic talent in our midst, one still in his 20s and a soloist with the company. Don't be surprised if the dancing soon takes a back seat to an onslaught of high-profile commissions.

Peck continues to push himself and the dancers. Stevens' music can be thrillingly ornate, with fluttering flutes and clarion brass and pensive piano; at times, any of these instruments provide the beat. A choreographic tendency is to match some of these breakneck time signatures to the point where the most sure-footed dancers slip just trying to keep up; the trick is to push up to that line without crossing it. Peck very deliberately slows down some passages so they look like slo-mo, a filmic device that works to concentrate our focus, such as when Theresa Reichlen floats slowly amid a whirling crowd before whipping off some fouéttés.

Peck has great skill and an affinity for geometry and patterning. He creates fresh tableaux with the 25 dancers at hand, building structures one body at a time and then diminishing them in reverse. We see circles that blossom like flowers, matrices, wedges, lines, columns, clusters. This tinkertoy tendency is complemented by artist Karl Jensen's riveting backdrop, which at first evokes an Escher image of greys and blacks, and then morphs (kaleidoscope style, only vertically) to reveal negative spaces—bowties, octagons, squares—where light shines through. 

Maria Kowroski & Robert Fairchild. Photo: Paul Kolnik
A respect for ballet's fundamentals is felt, but there are small inventions that brand it. Arms held overhead in "fifth position," but with the palms pressed together, arms straight, like a diver; or arms held straight out while spinning, Dervish style. While Sterling Hyltin is lifted, she makes the shape of a ship's prow figurehead, and another time, she is tossed to a mosh pit of men while posing like a reclining flirt. 

There are some new partner pairings: the vibrant Tiler Peck with Amar Ramasar (Stevens says he wrote a section with them in mind), Robert Fairchild with Maria Kowroski, both romantics at heart; Andrew Veyette with Hyltin, an ideally proportioned pair. And Teresa Reichlin assumes the cool lone wolf role, dancing solo or with several men or a pair of dancers. Veyette in particular seems to have blossomed in this work; he is among the most athletic of the men, and here bounds and bursts across the stage, unfettered.

Recently retired dancer Janie Taylor designed the smart costumes—white/navy striped tops and white trunks/tights for the women, and color block unitards with a pink stripe for the men. It's great to see a dancer's knowledge of functionality and style put to use, especially in a company that has in recent seasons turned to haute couture designers.

The one drawback was the piece's length. There were also several false endings when the audience thought it was over, only to have another movement begin. On the other hand, the many sections lend themselves to being excerpted.

Do I know you? Photo: Paul Kolnik
While watching Les Bosquets, the prior week's premiere by artist JR (with help from Peter Martins), a mental image recurred—Mr. Monopoly lighting a cigar with a $100 bill. The sheer lunacy of the premise—giving creative rein to a non-choreographer, enlisting more than 40 dancers for the eight-minute work, engaging whatever it took to create the individually unique costumes (by Marc Happel)... like other recent commissions, it feels like a huge amount of resources thrown at essentially a pièce d'occasion, a giant gesture of artistic hubris/audience outreach.

In any case, this artistically dodgy premise seems to have worked in terms of outreach, to an extent. Thanks to publicity about the project, chatter revolved around JR and his dance, even if it was about how he has never choreographed. (JR created the mezzanine floor mural last season, featuring the company lying in artful poses as the audience walked on top of them.) How Martins had to interpret JR's concepts into actual dance steps. About Lil Buck, a non-ballerino. About how the piece was inspired by the 2005 riots in and near Paris.

Lil Buck and Lauren Lovette. Photo: Paul Kolnik
As for the work itself, it is memorable for the impression made by the sheer number of dancers comprising two gangs, basically good vs. bad. Divided by gender, the two sides confront one another and clash, creating a chaotic mass that culminates in a human mound. Admittedly, it's a very strange sensation to see Lil Buck gliding on his sneakered toes, snaking his liquid arms, and angling his legs into diamond shapes, next to Lauren Lovette in a white crinkly (Tyvek?) tutu, moving through classical ballet shapes. It had the effect of reducing Lil Buck's very personal style to an oddity, when he has created a distinct genre of hip-hop. In one scene, the two stand face to face in front of a huge video of their alternating faces. The lighting is so dim that you can't see what they're doing (the above photo appears far lighter than the live performance), but presumably they were just staring at mimed (and smaller, real) cameras.

It's also a surprise that this work was not the performance focus of gala night, because it had the devil-may-care attitude characteristic of such fare (Justin Peck's premiere took that honor). On the one hand, it's not a bad thing that Martins has enough artistic freedom to direct resources to an untested dance collaborator, but on the other hand, it's a lot of resources. But without such experiments, true talents like Peck might not be found. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Cincinnati Ballet does Frampton (Not) Live!

Hummingbird in a Box. Photo: Peter Mueller
Cincinnati Ballet made its Joyce debut this past week, bringing an ambitious slate of three large ensemble works. The big attraction was Hummingbird in a Box, a premiere to seven songs by rock icon Peter Frampton and Gordon Kennedy, choreographed by Adam Hougland. Caprice by Val Caniparoli and Chasing Squirrel by Trey McIntyre followed.

The first few bars of a pop tune can define its character, and this was true for the leadoff song in Hummingbird, "The Promenade's Retreat." During the introductory vamp, the dancers popped onstage one by one to strike a pose on the beat before moving fluidly across the stage; their pacing underscored the catchy rhythm. The acoustic guitar's sound was clean and bright and felt like a tangible presence in the theater. My familiarity with Frampton's music is from his famous Live! album; the Joyce evening's songs rang faint bells, and though they didn't recall the shimmering utopian folksiness of his massive '70s hits, they were catchy and pleasing. The cast wore sharp looking black sequinned bras and tutus; the men, white jeans; the costumes are designed by Diana Adams.  

Janessa Touchet in Hummingbird in a Box. Photo: Amy Harris.
The suite held pleasures—the aforementioned crisp sound, the muscular pliancy of the admirable dancers, in particular an explosive Patric Palkens and a very expressive Janessa Touchet. But apart from a romantic duet, some gestural allusions to environmental caution, and some strict rhythmic obedience, the dance didn't seem to relate to the songs. The dance and music ran parallel, as if the dance could be paired with different music. The structure set a pattern among the three dances comprising the evening—the cast is introduced, and each of the subsequent 7-9 songs or movements features a smaller group or soloist until the last section when everyone returns for the finale. And other than Chasing Squirrel, which seemed to have a loose narrative underpinning involving men chasing women (recreationally, or as a business arrangement; could've gone either way), the movement and music were casual partners. Perhaps another viewing might reveal more connections.

It's a pattern that's familiar because it works, providing dynamic shifts within a typically 20-25 minute work, a showcase for the strengths of each individual dancer, and a reason to
use music with the correlative characteristics of range and virtuosity. And often an evening is made up of three such works, modules that have become the norm due to a viewer's attention and duration span, and the realities of putting together a major dance which include rehearsal scheduling and music management. And so it happens that while watching a show such as Cincinnati Ballet's, it breaks down to 20 or so short movements that begin to feel like déja vu.

Caprice featured music by Paganini played live onstage by violinists Haoli Lin and Yabing Tang, who alternated solos. The costumes, by Sandra Woodall, are flattering, elegant dresses and tank tops/pants of pewter, with darker yoke accents. I have to confess that the music was so devilish and the playing so virtuosic that I often found myself watching the violinists rather than the dancers, who were giving it their adrenalized best. They landed in arabesques from cartwheels, held super high extended legs for an extra beat, and when they were still, it was often in a running pose.

Trey McIntyre's suite, Chasing Squirrel (2004), employed an odd recording by Kronos Quartet, Nuevo, a survey of Mexican tunes that at times hewed toward shrill. The gorgeous backdrop, a matrix of flower bouquets, was designed by Woodall, as was the well-worn boudoir wear of the women and the mens' zoot suits, which were either hot pink, or faded rose. The women, their hair teased out, infused their performances with more individual character than the other dances. One wore a gown with a big train, which several men partnered in addition to its wearer. McIntyre makes memorable stage pictures and infuses the dancers with little characteristics, thereby distinguishing his dances.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Buffard and Limon—Disparate Points on the Spectrum

Baron Samedi. Photo: Ian Douglas
The late Alain Buffard's Baron Samedi, at New York Live Arts, feels like a heightened dramatic event from the outset. In the dark, Hlengiwe Lushaba sings Kurt Weill's "Trouble Man" as the light slowly comes up, revealing Nadia Lauro's breathtaking set—an undulating white square that slopes downward toward the audience. Its six inhabitants, plus two musicians on the side, are illuminated by the ethereal lighting by Yves Godin, riding it like a magic carpet for the work's riveting one hour duration.

Described as a "choreographed opera," it is structured by Weill's songs and text, although dismayingly, the composer is not credited anywhere in the program (his name is in the press release). The members of the cast are all multi-talented dancers, actors, and singers from a number of different nations; their nationalities and backgrounds feed into the plot, which revolves around the title character. This voodoo figure is portrayed commandingly by David Thompson, whose level of command slips from emcee to slave master. There is no dance, per se, but sections of physical theater connected by songs, including "Mack the Knife" and "I'm a Stranger Here Myself." The set makes for the possibility of a "king of the hill" scenario—the upper level the seat of power—and the slope allows the performers to slide toward us like children sledding. This collaborative mashup, in the hands of supremely talented artists, works. 

Baron Samedi. Photo: Ian Douglas
On the other end of the dance-theater spectrum, the Limon Company had a run at the Joyce Theater. Sean Curran choreographed a new work, Nocturne for Ancestors, a playful, somewhat confusing pastiche of ethnic styles with commissioned music by Lucia Caruso and Pedro H. da Silva. The costumes, by Amanda Shafran, felt largely Indian, but the shape of some of the womens' resembled dirndls. Movements and gestures quoted Indian dance, but also Irish step and tango. The finale, in which the dancers formed a wheel and broke into small groups and pairs, exuded the joy of a square dance at its most exuberant.

Psalms. Photo: Douglas Cody
Roxane d'Orleans Juste celebrated 30 years with the company with a solo by Dianne McIntyre, She Who Carries the Sky. It's a big occasion celebrated by a dance with a big title, and d'Orleans Juste—a shaman-like figure—made the most of the gesture-laden work, re-tying her scarf in various ways, like wearing various hats, dashing across the stage again and again. Ultimately, this elegy ran far too long on a stuffed program.

Limon's two dances grounded the program, Mazurkas (1958) and the stunning Psalm (1967), with commissioned music by Jon Magnussen, which was remounted in 2002. His choreography remains relevant due in part to its pure, simple expression of the human form—exaltation in an open sternum and up-curved arms, humility in deeply planted pliés and the use of gravity as a powerful force, humanity in plainly held hands with spread fingers. There's a lack of affectation which allows the company's appealing dancers (led by Dante Puleio) to connect with us directly, time and again.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Mel Bochner—Strong Language

Portrait of Eva Hesse, 1966. Ink on graph paper, 4-3/8" diam. Private collection.

Mel Bochner was playing with the graphic possibilities of language and numbers long before word clouds—and personal computers!—were invented. More than 70 of his works comprise a show at the Jewish Museum titled Strong Language, curated by Norman Kleeblatt and on view through Sep 21. A number of paintings done since the late '90s are included, with a strong representation of his "thesaurus" series, in addition to a series of "Portrait Drawings" from the '60s and 70s of his now famous cohorts.
Blah, Blah, Blah (detail), 2008. Oil on canvas, 48"x48". Private collection.
It's likeable work that punches all the right buttons—clever wordplay, an array of bright and subtle colors, the tactility of thickly smeared paint, and orderly grids. The thesaurus works, with a nod to Roget's, take one word and parse numerous variations of it, often devolving into off-color slang. He often unearths a phrase you might not have thought of, but there's a sense of predictability and coyness that soon feels comfortable. 
Silence!, 2011. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 80"x120". Hadley Martin Fisher Collection.

With a few works, he moves past that familiarity. Several "Blah, Blah, Blah" paintings break form with their blasé repetition and deep, immersive shades of ocean blue and layered white scrawls that bleed. They might reveal some jadedness after a career examining the precision and nuance of language, or perhaps the arduous necessity of simply perpetuating one's output. In his early portrait drawings, he shapes words describing the subject's art, or character. And one of the pieces, Dollar Hash Exclamation Plus (2011) which also appears on some of the exhibition's merch, touches on comic book cussing and the foibles of misinterpretation in its symbolic form: $ # ! +

It's a glimpse of work by an artist who has used language both representationally, formally, and with a big wink.