Exhibition Review: See it Loud at the National Academy Museum

Posted on October 8, 2013

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LelandBellDusk

Leland Bell. “Dusk.” Acrylic on canvas. 60 by 96 inches. 1977-78

The National Academy Museum, on Fifth Avenue, is now hosting “See it Loud,” an exhibition of paintings by seven painters—Leland Bell, Albert Kresch, Paul Resika, Paul Georges, Neil Welliver, Peter Heinmann and Stanley Lewis—whose deep influence on the sensibilities of at least two generations of painters in this city is reflected—some will think this perverse—in inverse proportion to their standing in the art market. It’s a well-known story that the big budget galleries’ domination of New York’s artistic landscape has transferred influence away from teaching institutions and museums, and insofar as the Academy’s traditional role of disseminating the ideas of important artists has become the purview of the commercial gallery, Chelsea, more than any place, reflects the true academic art of our time. In this context, “See it Loud” is best characterized as an anti-academic show.

That the careers of Bell, Kresch, Resika, Georges, Welliver, Heinmann and Lewis have not stacked up against those of their contemporaries—pop artists, abstractionists, minimalists, conceptualists, neo-expressionists, post-modernists—is not lost on their admirers, and the dubious distinction of relative obscurity in the face of extraordinary talent must be one of the threads that connected this diverse group of painters in the mind of curator Bruce Weber. The more obvious link, of course, is figuration—in each case aggressive and unapologetic—and one feels immediately upon entering the National Academy Museum that the connection between figurative painting and art world obscurity provides the subtext of this exhibition.

On the surface,  the exhibition is a celebration of representational painting—of figures, landscapes and still lifes—and nowhere is the power of the genre on stronger display than in the narrow second floor room devoted to the paintings of the late Leland Bell. Among the many demands that Bell’s paintings make on our attention, the question “Why is this painter not more famous?” is a corollary to each.

read the full review, as originally published in Art New England

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