Back in time
ACME Fine Art revisits the James Gallery, an early cooperative operating in New York from 1954 to 1962, beginning at abstract expressionism’s height, with a lively show co-curated by gallery director David Cowan and one of the James’s original artists, Myrna Harrison. The James was one of a community of cooperatives around East 10th Street that sprung up in reaction to exclusionary commercial galleries.
William Freed’s “Untitled Abstraction.”
Not all of the work withstands the test of time, but the exuberant energy of the exhibition overrides the occasional misfire. There are a few jewels, including William Freed’s “Untitled Abstraction.” The paint is so built up it’s stony, but the colors — tangerine, grapefruit pink — glimmer and melt, despite the bold forms of a pale square tilting against a dark shape edged in arcs. James Billmyer’s untitled painting is made entirely of scores of straight lines criss-crossing the canvas, creating depth and a dense, striated surface.
The second show at ACME highlights another abstract artist of that era, Panos Ghikas, who worked primarily in egg tempera, a medium only a perfectionist can love. Early works made while he was in art school at Yale in the 1940s are figurative and deeply invested in volume, such as the romantic pair in “Give Your Heart to the Hawks.”
But Ghika was a cunning modernist, and his 1957 painting “McDowell Colony 2” is a terrific piece. Its flat, interlocking puzzle-pieces of color, with their angles and tones, effectively evoke planes and space. At the same time, they hint at figures in a footrace. Both paintings are intricate, with delicate, dusky hues, but the abstract “McDowell Colony 2” conveys so much more than the allegorical “Hawks.”