“CARL FREDRIK HILL: Drawings From the Malmo Art Museum,” Scandinavia House, New York, NY. Through Jan. 9. Roberta Smith: Carl Fredrik Hill’s astounding career is sharply divided by madness into two halves, with ambition and determination their common ground….Overwork and lack of success — despite being included in the 1877 Impressionist Exhibition — caused a severe nervous breakdown, and after two years in hospitals in France and Denmark, Hill returned to his birthplace in Lund, Sweden. From 1880 until his death in 1911, he was in the care of his family. He never recovered, but he drew incessantly, producing thousands of works in chalk, pastel, charcoal and ink, most of which are now in the collection of the Malmo Art Museum in Sweden. Goran Christenson, the museum’s director, has selected the 75 drawings that form this exhibition, the first devoted to Hill in the United States….Hill is at his best when he bears down and eliminates a meandering, distracted quality that plagues many of these drawings. He does so most aggressively in several small drawings densely darkened with marks. These return to his original subject, the landscape, but it is now Nordic, populated by spiky pine trees, rocky ravines and rushing water. In other words, desolate, isolated but enduring. In one drawing diagonal lines rain down on the ground. It takes a minute to realize that they spell his name — Hill, Hill, Hill, Hill — echoing in the wilderness.
“FREDERICK HAYES: Build an Empire,” Number 35, Lower East Side. Through Dec. 6. Roberta Smith: Frederick Hayes is an encouraging anomaly. At 54, he is only now having his first solo gallery show in New York. Mr. Hayes’s subject might be defined as both the richness and harshness of urban life. His drawings depict city blocks whose structures shift from tended and grand to neglected and modest and while modulating between realism and semi-abstraction. His short video focuses on New York streets and random pedestrians. But it is his paintings that sing. Or more accurately the painting: “Urban Grid” is a series of 32 small canvases forming a large rectangle; each is a vigorous portrait of a city dweller that could easily stand on its own. The portraits depict men, women and teenagers, and are based on images taken from television, magazines or newspapers; on Mr. Hayes’s own photographs; or on his imagination….Mr. Hayes builds his subjects’ faces carefully if bluntly, distinguishing each robust stroke. He has an opulent and inventive sense of color and is fearless in his contrasts of shadow and light. And despite their physicality as paintings, his portraits suggest actual people. Whether artists like Max Beckmann, Marsden Hartley and possibly Emil Nolde figured in the development of Mr. Hayes’s style, they are among the precedents for its adamant and considered vitality.”
“CARROLL DUNHAM,” Gladstone Gallery, Chelsea. Through Dec. 5. Ken Johnson: This joyous show of sweet, goofy and raunchy paintings might be the best of Carroll Dunham’s nearly 30-year career. Sex is still his main subject, and he continues to work in a style that amalgamates Pop, Surrealism and Expressionism. But he has taken a surprising turn from the angry gender warfare of previous years, and he has banished his Puritan character with the bullet-firing penis-nose. With candy-bright colors separated by fat black lines and paint applied in a multitude of ways, these canvases have an engrossing sensuality. The images are turbulent but exuberantly so; they find Mr. Dunham on the threshold of a new Eden….Most of the show’s works feature the boldly outlined image of a naked woman with full, pendulous breasts. In some she is viewed from the front bending forward to wash herself in translucent blue water. In others she bends over with her posterior and genitals — highlighted in some cases in shocking pink — presented to the viewer in a pornographic manner. There’s a naughty formalist joke here: you are implicitly invited to enter the picture imaginatively — to penetrate the painted surface and go into a virtual world conceived of as female.Mr. Dunham is mischievously toying with the old romantic equation of nature and femininity (as in Gauguin), envisioning with comic élan and realist skepticism a pastoral, erotic alternative to our industrial, violently male-dominated world.
Read the entire Art in Review column here.