Sunday, October 27, 2013
Posted by Aubrey Levinthal
Yesterday was the last day of the show Biala: Vision and Memory at Queens College. I had really wanted to go since it opened in September, as Biala is an absolute favorite and it is a rare thing to see so much of her work at once.
But as we drove, through insane New York traffic and the bridge tolls started stacking (really quickly), I started thinking: Is this actually worth it? And then as we roamed around campus looking for the show, ending up in a building with no sign of life or light, I thought: this was a mistake.
But then, we turned a corner into a bright, beautiful gallery space which seemed to appear out of nowhere, on the fourth floor of the college's art studio building and Biala's paintings were there in all their glory.
It was truly the best show I have seen this year and maybe longer. Upstairs (the first few photos above)were her work from the 30s - 60s (when she was in her 30s - 60s) and in the large room downstairs were about 20 paintings from her 70s until age 91. The catalog had a wonderful essay which discusses her colorful life and work from throwing de Kooning's wedding reception to 'living on the edge of poverty subsisting on vegetables from the garden" to be in Paris. I will leave you with the last paragraph of that:
"Although she regarded herself as a figurative painter, the consistent frontality and spatial ambiguity of Biala's works challenge this characterization. Often, the immediate, sensuouis address of a seemingly straightforward composition belies its foundation in a geometric scaffolding of colored shapes. Her life-long veneration of Matisse is manifested in such exquisitely crafted interiors as The Yard in Winter, 1981 (11th picture here) which induce sustained contemplation of formal relationships and gradual awareness of the tensions between observed reality and abstraction, presence and absence. In canvas after canvas, she displays remarkable visual intelligence and absolute control of her medium. If Biala's paintings offer immense gratification to the eye, they also are reservoirs of feeling and memory, lyric affirmations of the life she chose to lead."
And a quote from her:
"Like many of us, I was raised on the notion of 'painterliness' -- that what is most moving in painting is...its painterly qualities. But when I think of the art that I love -- for example, the art of Spain, with its passion and noblesse -- I wonder if painterliness is not meant to serve something beyond itself...."