Contributed by Rachel Youens / I recently visited Larry Greenberg at his gallery Studio 10, which he has turned into his own studio space since the pandemic hit, allowing him to focus on his painting practice with renewed commitment. For several years Studio 10, at 56 Bogart Street in Bushwick, has presented interesting and wide-ranging art, including experimental works and conceptual objects, traditional and modern paintings, and sound and performance pieces. The exhibitions have often challenged my personal tastes, but in a compelling way, unlike some of the perfunctorily shocking provocations I have often seen in Chelsea. Greenberg has also long hosted artists Matt Freedman and Tom Spelios, who for several years have regularly performed their ongoing existential narrative Once Upon a Broken Time at Studio 10. More recently, Greenberg exhibited his abstractions with Kate Teale’s representational paintings of windows at night, collaborating with her on a wall mural as well.
Greenberg’s own paintings are essentially minimalist. He establishes a frontal plane with architectural leitmotifs in somber, metallic greys or slightly reflective burnished whites. Creamy house paint yields surfaces that are lushly tactile. Surprises arise when he teases out breakages and fractured angles between planes as slivers of illusionistic space, using luminous, contrasting blues to fill hard-edge shapes that conjure wee hours verging on dawn. The paintings were hung and leaned against the walls in series in the square gallery space, lit by a bank of windows. As we lingered on one work, he noted a pencil line at the edge of a square plane that defined a cut through the creamy surface and a second planar slice. Its deep red, he told me, was very specific to the shape it inhabited. For me, such considerations of the artist’s intentionality increased the work’s poetic savor. We also talked about Gerhardt Richter’s use of neutralizing grey in his exhibit at the Met Breuer, opening another intellectual doorway.
Greenberg spoke about challenging himself to outgrow his youthful training at the New York Studio School, which he attended shortly after it was established in 1964. During that periods, the school’s aim, Mercedes Matter told Jennifer Samet, was to “restore the conditions for working which make the study of art possible” and “strip away everything but its basic, serious components: drawing, painting, sculpture, history of art.” The school emphasized empirical looking, a commitment to concentrated studio time, and a deeply embedded community of students and teachers. NYSS did not completely wall itself off from the experimental epoch – its first dean, composer Morton Feldman, played duets with his girlfriend on Friday evenings and Buckminster Fuller premiered his World Game over several days in 1967. But the heroic ideologies of the school’s well-known artist-teachers rejected tangents such as printmaking and bookmaking, and offered no guidance on painting craft. What the school offered Greenberg and other students was formal rigor, the conviction that art was a serious vocation, and sincerity of purpose.
For close to a decade as a gallerist, Greenberg has centered his choices on aesthetic qualities rather than bankable calculations – an approach he has shared with two other Brooklyn painter-gallerists in Brooklyn, Fred Valentine and the late Richard Timperio. Valentine, like Greenberg also converted his studio into a gallery and back again. His series, “Toward Grandfather Mountain,” paintings that he said, “thunk thoughts from the past, clearing the brush and leading the way,” were shown at Studio 10. Some readers may recall the openness and earnestness of Timperio’s annual celebratory and ultra-democratic annual salon show. All three men have tried to foster the careers of their contemporaries. While their audiences have been small, their roles as gallerists and painters have contributed to a sense of community for artists in New York City and beyond. In my own intermittent trips to Bushwick, I have made it a point to stop by Studio 10, keen to capture the sensation of probing limits and to see common things and experiences in an unfamiliar way.
Many of the shows Greenberg has mounted have allowed me to do this. To name just a few: David Byrd’s stylized scenes of people at Coney Island and residents at the Veterans Administration Medical Hospital where he worked as an orderly (in a show curated by Paul D’Agostino); Meg Hitchcock’s mapping of sacred texts as concrete poetry that revealed themes of repentance; Kurt Hoffman’s small watercolors of Hungarian flashcards, which helped him translate a distinctive way of thinking; Suzanne Joelson’s searing, painterly canvases; John Monti’s ornamental, exuberant floral-grotesques made with industrial materials; Susan Silas’s exuberant photographic diaries of love, sex, sensuality, and the aging body; and Adam Simon’s treatments of corporate logos as abstract emblems that belong to our collective memory. In the midst of the NYC’s Covid-19 lockdown, Greenberg electronically exhibited Patrick Killoran’s cleaning of public telephone booths – a poignantly somber reflection on the desertion of public property.
Greenberg reflects that as the world has moved forward, the gallery’s exhibitions have kept his eyes open. Here Studio 10’s resistance to commodifying art is significant: it imparts the sense that each artist is in the midst of her pursuits, merely pausing to let viewers know her general direction, and will continue whether or not she makes it big. As to price lists, which Greenberg avoids, he asks rhetorically, “Why have sheets of paper with little numbers on them?” We all need to make the rent, of course, but at least from the artist’s perspective, that is not the primary purpose of an art show. It is rather to cue others to an enhanced understanding of the world, and to perpetuate art as a kind of living language.
About the author: Rachel Youens is an accomplished painter, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago BFA program, with an MFA from Brooklyn College, where she studied with Lois Dodd, John Walker, and the late Jack Whitten and Lennart Anderson. She has had numerous shows in NYC, most recently at Valentine Gallery in Ridgewood. Youens teaches at Parsons School of Design, The New School, and at LaGuardia Community College.