Thursday, March 30, 2006

Evett Retro

Tuesday evening, I attended the opening for a retrospective of works by the painter Kenneth Evett. The show is up at downtown Ithaca's Upstairs Gallery through April 22. Evett, who died recently at the age of 91 (I never knew him), taught at Cornell from 1948 to 1979. He is represented Upstairs by a small selection of oil paintings, watercolors and works on paper.

The show was frustrating because it was too small to really serve the function of a retrospective. Only his landscapes and the still-lifes
which took up most of the main gallery areawere adequately represented. Sketches, portraits and a female nude were relegated to the cramped back office. There wasn't enough room to manouever around to see them properly. My personal favorite, the Feininger-like ink on paper Seascape, was in the office too. A show that only represents two series of workpainted mostly in the last decades of a long careerisn't really a retrospective as far as I'm concerened. The basic problem is simply that the gallery is too small for something like this. (Although apparently Evett had another retrospective there in 1996, featuring over 100 works hung salon-style, which may very well have worked.) Anyway, it would have been a stronger show if it was more focused.

The work itself is quite good, if modestly so. It strongly recalls prewar American modernism, a tradition with which Evett was no doubt greatly familiar. I was variously reminded of such fine painters as Charles Demuth, John Marin, Milton Avery, and Ben Shahn. It isn't a big deal. It is a little strange, as if the last 60 years of art history hadn't happened. While I admire this historical awareness, it does detract somwhat from the enjoyment of the work to constantly be reminded of similar but better work by other artists.

I should say more about the actual work (which I liked), but that will have to another post. Do go see the show if you're in the area.

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