Kirill Doron, Olga Antonova, Janet Rickus, Daniel Greene

Kirill Doron, Chalk, 2009 Courtesy Gallery Henoch, New York City  In October, Gallery Henoch in New York City presented “Still Lifes,” a group show featuring work by a dozen artists. The seventeenth-century Dutch are often credited with establishing still life as an autonomous genre, and it has become a touchstone of the contemporary realism revival. The artists at Gallery Henoch, however, largely steered clear of the rich old master style favored by Jacob Collins and alumni of his Water Street Atelier. The most traditional paintings came from two Russians, Kirill Doron and Olga Antonova, although their surfaces were very different. Doron uses oil to create a soft matte patina, almost like pastel. The effect is most explicit in Chalk (2009), with sherbet-colored fat sticks in a glass and a blackboard and wooden shelf dusty with scribbled marks. In Scale (2009), the corroded metal scale, spotted wall and battered chest—even three relatively shiny green apples—all seem to be perceived through a scrim of age. Antonova, in contrast, suggests a warm, elegant domesticity in her oils. In Three Ladles (2009), the silver bowls of the ladles are convex mirrors reflecting the surrounding room. They rest in a shallow bowl atop a table covered with an intricately embroidered cloth. Antonova gives what look like family heirlooms the honor of a painter’s full attention, and she often focuses on a single object. Kettle with Blue Pattern (2009) depicts an old-fashioned silver tea-kettle with ceramic handle and knob. She makes the tarnished, softly reflective surface come alive with scumbled highlights of yellow paint.

Much of the other work on display was crisp and shiny, like Janet Rickus’s Yellow, Red, Blue (2007), depicting a set of smooth, unadorned pitchers and bowls—reminiscent of the children’s tableware at the Museum of Modern Art’s design store—in primary colors, along with a geometric melon and two lemons. Sam’s Bowl (2008) uses similar shapes but a cooler palette of grey, offset by matte white cups and yellow lemons. The pristine space is clearly a fictional construct, far removed from the clutter of daily existence. Other artists tend toward photorealism, such as Steve Mills, with his oil-on-aluminum Recycle (2009). The string-tied bales of newspapers are arranged in a strong diagonal composition, and the painter’s mimicry of newsprint and headlines is a tour de force. Steve Smulka has made a specialty of capturing the complexities of transparency and reflection in clear-glass vessels. He tends toward a cool palette, as in Field of Vision (2009), with three decanters and a pitcher on a window sill, somewhat upstaged by a nearly photographic landscape of bare trees and blue skies, squared like a Renaissance cartoon by window panes. Hot Streak(2009) is a close-up of four clear jars against an out-of-focus, predominantly yellow backdrop. The most striking element here is the stopper on the decanter on the far right, a globe that reflects the outside world upside down.

Veteran artist Daniel Greene, who attended the Art Students League in the mid-1950s, contributed several paintings in his signature formula: an arrangement in an illusionistic but very shallow space, with a geometric patterned backdrop that emphasizes the flatness of the picture plane. Antique Sewing Machine with Spools of Thread (2009) is backed by a boldly colored gameboard with a red cross in the center and corners of cream, blue, green and yellow. Greene gives these surfaces a brushy painterliness, avoiding Pop stylization and photorealist seamlessness. The spools of thread are nicely done, their bright colors—magenta, lime green, peacock blue—reflected in the worn wooden table. The only pastel artist in the show, Jaye Schlesinger represents the trompe l’oeil tradition with a group of portraits of tools and instruments, such as Calipers (2004). The artist has mastered the play of shadow in almost flat space and has a good feel for the geometry of complex shapes.

Among the other painters were Robert Jackson, with his Pop Art-influenced lettered crates, and a number of compositionally less sophisticated, straightforward still-life artists. Ellen Wineberg’s roughly painted toy animals floating in a limbo of painted texts did not seem to fit in with this group, and the work was not strong enough to suggest a viable alternative. The range of contemporary still-life painting is remarkable, and it would be possible to put together shows similar to this one with a completely different look. The Henoch exhibition is part of an ongoing dialogue about the genre. Gallery Henoch, 555 West 25th Street, New York, New York 10001. Telephone (917) 305-0003. On the web at www.galleryhenoch.com

American Arts Quarterly, Winter 2010, Volume 27, Number 1