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Judy Glantzman: 1979-Today

Betty Cunningham Gallery, NYC

Through January 13, 2019

"What the painter adds to the canvas are the days of his life. The adventure of living, hurtling toward death." Jean-Paul Sartre

"I hope that my painting has the impact of giving someone, as it did me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality." Barnett Newman

Abraham Lincoln wrote that "men, like trees, are best measured down." This phrase immediately jumps to mind viewing the current exhibit at Betty Cunningham Gallery, a retrospective of the work of Judy Glantzman. A painter of great sincerity and intelligence, who has been working in New York, creating a personal vocabulary and style for four decades. 

The reference to trees, of course, was Lincoln’s metaphor: one should reserve judgment on our fellow humans until they are dead, have finished their story. In Glantzman's work, though, trees are also an important medium. Carvings of hands, Reach (2017), grouped in help-me clusters on plinths, are poignantly beseeching, being at once eerily generic, like something found in a reliquary, and at the same time oddly personal, each hand seemingly modeled from life. While bearing a passing resemblance to the sculptures of Nicola Tyson and Georg Baselitz, with their roughhewn carving, Glantzman's sculpture feels far more complex and strange -- Pinocchio adrift on the Raft of The Medusa.

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In the '80s, her work addressed AIDS; in her more recent work she paints of loss, conflict, and war. It is now hard to remember, but in the '80s death often came slow, slow and painful, as plagues often do. In our current age death happens quickly, randomly, anonomosly. The bomb in the plaza, the gun in the school yard or at the movie theater. Glantzman's approach in her current work mimics the contingency of the subject. She writes, "I am looking for 'shorthand' symbols that speak of war. The large collages are very physical, so the intuitive process has a lot to do with tearing and layering. Chance plays a big part in the collages. I want the work to 'show me,' so I often glue things together that happened to fall together on the floor."

There is something ironic about recent movies having provided a greater glimpse into the work of painters. Julian Schnabel and Willem DeFoe's Van Gogh, and Stanley Tucci and Geoffrey Rush's Giacometti, show the anxious work of the painter trying to connect with a subject. Glantzman follows this tradition, and in Untitled (1993) the scraping, layering, and erasing come together slowly, cohesively, revealing the thought process of the artist. The ballerina dress perhaps a nod to Degas, or maybe a niece, it doesn’t really matter. It is a compelling work, iconic in its simplicity. 

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Hands reappear in some larger works from 2016. In Dark Prayer (2016) a turvy-topsy array of school portraits, globes, capsized boats, and clasped hands portend both helplessness and hope. Glantzman loses some of the intimacy of her single-figure works when she ups the action on canvas, but what we lose is offset by the cacophony of scratchy notes and sketches, the urgency of a reporter writing on another horror. Glantzman may seem an unlikely documentarian, but perhaps we miss the point if we assume the work is merely political commentary. She says, "I come from a self-portrait orientation… The more I am in it, the truer it is. And the more I am in it, the less it is about me—even though in truth it is all about me." In Glantzman's work the political is personal.

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