§ Sigh: Joan Mitchell at Cheim & Read Gallery

Joan Mitchell Drawing Into Paintmitchell_cheimread at the Cheim & Read Gallery, 547 W. 25 St in Chelsea showing until December 23rd 2016. Go, just go. No arguments.

Yesterday I went to 25th St. in Chelsea to see a few special exhibitions and explore what else might be interesting. One of the many exciting things about NYC is the galleries often present exhibitions that rival or exceed what the museums are presenting. For example the 2009 Gagosian exhibition of late Picasso is one the great art experiences of my life. Roberta Smith wrote that it was “One of the best shows to be seen in New York since the turn of the century”. Calling it “staggering”, she correctly noted that it “should make any museum glow green with envy.”

The Joan Mitchell show doesn’t come close to matching the depth and scope of the Gagosian Picasso, but for me it is one of the most glorious. Cheim & Read know Mitchell: they’ve represented her and presented her work going back at least two decades. I don’t say Joan Mitchell is the greatest painter of course, but she may be my favorite painter. She was no Picasso but Picasso was no Mitchell either.

They have done a terrific job of presenting the work. Painted from 1958 to 1992, the year she died, they show a consistent mastery of color and of an abstract style that forces the viewer (or at least this viewer) to fall head first into the canvas and create a personal reality within the abstract.

Joan Mitchell, Untitled, 1964

I should get the embarrassing part out of the way. As I walked in I saw the large (108″ x 80″) 1964 piece above. Here is what I wrote in my little journal as I sat in front of the canvas:

The reaction is visceral. A smile, a bodily tingle, an expansive feeling in my stomach…like returning to a home I’d never known. This makes we want to cry; I do cry. The feeling of joy and gratitude is overwhelming.

The exhibit contains maybe 20 pieces in four smallish rooms.  After viewing the full exhibition, I again sat in front of piece above.  I continued:

They are so full of life — live really lived — the good, the bad, the joy and the sorrow. As rich as life itself.

Joan Mitchell, Untitled, 1977

I turned on the bench to look at the gorgeous oil diptych above, Heel, Sit, Stay (110″ x 126″, 1977):

I feel I want to fall into this painting. I want to lie with the lilacs, feel the sun on me, smell the breeze filled with earth and life.

I could go on but I think you get the idea that I love this show. This work by this amazing woman is a prime example of why I love art. Joan loved the Romantic poets, Wordsworth especially. Patricia Albers writes in her biography of Joan, Joan Mitchell Lady Painter – a Life, of the two:

At their best, both painter and poet — retain not conventionalized memories neatly fitting the preset schematics of  adult experience but rather something closer to the unwieldy and unnameable raw material of life. (p 102)

Or has the Irishman Van Morrison sings in his brilliant and beautiful ode to the romantic ideal Summertime in England  from his album Common One:

Take a walk with me down by Avalon
And I will show you
It ain’t why, why, why
It just is.

Again, sigh. Some more images from the show below.

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