Sarah Crowner

New York

Sarah Crowner: Untitled (2011): Oil and gouache on sewn canvas and linen. Images courtesy Nichelle Beauchene Gallery, New York.Sarah Crowner: Untitled (2011): Oil and gouache on sewn canvas and linen. Images courtesy Nichelle Beauchene Gallery, New York.

By Bill Clarke

Sarah Crowner
Nichelle Beauchene Gallery
September 7  — October 23, 2011

Throughout the 20th Century, the worlds of visual art and dance often came together, with visual artists ranging from Picasso to Robert Rauschenberg creating stage and set designs  — Picasso for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in 1917 and Rauschenberg several times for Merce Cunningham’s dance company during the 1950s and 60s. The history of art and dance seems to be of interest once again, perhaps prompted by the death of Cunningham in 2009 at the age of 90, with director Wim Wenders’ critically acclaimed film about the German choreographer Pina Bausch (who also passed away in 2009) currently in theatres and the in-depth exhibition Danser Sa Vie, which examines the history of art and dance since 1900, opening at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris this April.

Sarah Crowner: Stage Right, Stage Left (2011): Oil on wood and stained wood, dimensions variable.Sarah Crowner: Stage Right, Stage Left (2011): Oil on wood and stained wood, dimensions variable.On a smaller, but no less visually stimulating, scale painter Sarah Crowner, finds inspiration in the world of dance  — specifically in the person of modern dancer and choreographer Erick Hawkins, who rose to fame in Martha Graham’s legendary troupe in the 1940s before forming his own company in 1954. With his own troupe, Hawkins fostered relationships with artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell and Isamu Noguchi, whose approaches to abstract painting and sculpture were reflected in Hawkins’ ‘abstract’ approach to dance, in which he moved away from the strictures of plot and psychology and towards aspects of Zen philosophy and Japanese aesthetics.

Acrobat, Crowner's second show with this gallery, opened with a poster-sized image of Hawkins in mid-jump. Immediately, Crowner launches viewers into a visual meditation on the rhythms of dance. The exhibition consisted of three parts: two suites of paintings and a set of small sculptures (all works 2011). Along one wall was a suite of six closely hung paintings made from sewn-together pieces of canvas and linen, their abutting sharp angles and swooping arcs suggestive of dance movements. Repeated colours and shapes create visual unity across the paintings. A trio of black, white and grey stitched canvases contain similar forms, and bring to mind the reduced palettes of Motherwell’s paintings. All of the paintings feel buoyant; they make ones eyes (as well as heart) dance.

The shapes of the canvases were picked up in the delightful sculpture Stage Right, Stage Left, its eight elements arranged on a tall plinth as if they were parts of a maquette for a stage design. Indeed, one could visualize dancers performing among large versions of these sculptures or in front of the canvases, their movements activating the gap between the viewer and the artworks. Perhaps aspiring Hawkinses will one day perform on a Crowner-designed set, which sounds like an exciting proposition.