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Benny Andrews Rediscovered: Holland Cotter (and my) Appreciation of Michael Rosenfeld’s Retrospective

Benny Andrews Photo: Kathy Morris, courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC

Benny Andrews
Photo: Kathy Morris, courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC

There is a capsule review in today’s NY Times that merits wider attention and museum follow-up—Holland Cotter‘s very belated praise for Michael Rosenfeld Gallery’s Benny Andrews show (closing May 18). It’s the artist’s first (also belated) retrospective since his death in 2006.

As I felt when I visited this show several weeks ago (tweeting appreciatively, here and here), Cotter believes Rosenfeld’s show gives Andrews’ oeuvre “the visibility it deserves. An institutional survey, accompanied by an edition of Andrews’s invaluable and voluminous journals, is in order, letting us see an important body of work and an important American life in full.”

Rosenfeld’s is a show that needed to be done.

Cotter’s review, though brief, may help give Andrews’ work “the visibility it deserves.” His sympathetic depictions of black people’s world-weariness, resistance and resilience are understatedly powerful—starkly composed with Hopper-esque economy and simplicity, but with some images partly sculpted from collaged fabric, giving heightened definition to the subjects. (That’s me, not Cotter.)

I had some contact with Andrews, an artworld figure known as much for his political activism as his art. He was the head of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Visual Arts Program from 1982 to 1984. He’s one of several artists who didn’t make it into the Whitney’s revelatory “Blues for Smoke” exhibition but could have easily belonged there:

Installation shot of Benny Andrews show at Rosenfeld. "Confinement One (Music Series), 1996 Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Installation shot of Benny Andrews show at Michael Rosenfeld.. Foreground: “Confinement One (Music Series),” 1996
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Here’s another installation shot at Rosenfeld:

Another installation shot. Foreground: "Witness," 1968 Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Foreground: “Witness,” 1968
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Visiting Rosenfeld is also one way of getting inside Jean Nouvel‘s 100 Eleventh Avenue apartment tower. The gallery moved to its new ground-floor digs (designed by Richard Gluckman) a few months ago.

Here’s the view looking up, as you approach the gallery’s entrance—something you should try to do before this show closes:

RosenfNouv

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

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