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  • Writer's pictureDavid Eichholtz

Sonia Gechtoff Exhibition, “Objects on the New Landscape,” Reviewed in The New Yorker





“Moon Rising,” from 1989. Artwork © Sonia Gechtoff / Courtesy Bortolami / Andrew Kreps Gallery;

Photograph by Guang Xu


The career of Sonia Gechtoff, who died in 2018, at the age of ninety-one, was full of risky experiments and reinventions. A prominent San Francisco Abstract Expressionist, she moved to New York in 1958 and proceeded to be unclassifiable for the next six decades. Many of the paintings in “Objects on the New Landscape,” a spottily dazzling two-gallery exhibition, were completed in the eighties and have the bright crispness of nineteenth-century Japanese prints (Hiroshige was a key influence), with a feathery texture that comes from graphite shading. A few are a notch too facile, but the best, like “Moon Rising” (1989), have a fizzing glow that insinuates itself in the memory and refuses to leave.—Jackson Arn (Andrew Kreps through Feb. 10; Bortolami through March 2.)




Sonia Gechtoff 


Objects on the New Landscape



Bortolami (39 Walker St, The Upstairs) 12 January – 2 March, 2024

Andrew Kreps Gallery (394 Broadway) 12 January – 17 February, 2024



SONIA GECHTOFF

Hiroshige Revisited II, 1988

Acrylic on canvas

55 x 39 in (139.7 x 100 cm)








SONIA GECHTOFF

Untitled (Round Icon Collage), 1962

Acrylic, pastel, graphite on paper

Artwork: 26 x 26 in (66 x 66 cm)

Framed: 29 3/2 x 29 3/4 in (75.6 x 75.6 cm)








SONIA GECHTOFF

Untitled, 1986

Acrylic and graphite on paper mounted to linen

38 1/4 x 46 in (97.2 x 116.8 cm)








SONIA GECHTOFF

Ghost Waves IV, 1984

Acrylic and graphite on paper mounted to linen

48 x 40 1/2 in (121.9 x 102.9 cm)








SONIA GECHTOFF

Devouring Wave, 1984

Acrylic and graphite on paper mounted to linen

49 x 40 1/2 in (124.5 x 102.9 cm)







There is little stillness in the frenzied abstractions of Sonia Gechtoff (Ukrainian American, b. 1926, d. 2018), whose paintings evoke colliding waves, gusts of wind, and falling water. As with other Abstract Expressionists of her era, Gechtoff had a reverence for the sublime and a penchant for dramatic, boundless form. Though she largely eschewed from any objectivity or symbolism, she delved deeply into a mysticism derived from non-Western sources and lineages.


 


Gechtoff was born in Philadelphia to Jewish émigrés from Odessa and Bessarabia. Leonid, a notable landscape painter, died when she was just 15 but left an indelible influence on his daughter. Gechtoff inherited his knowledge of Byzantine art and developed a fascination with icon painting. She utilized several recurring motifs in her compositions which resemble some of the hallmarks of icons: a heavily stylized natural world; a “reverse perspective” in which distant forms on the horizon are enlarged; frame-like borders which recall the inset rectangular ark within an icon’s wood panel; and moons and celestial shapes reminiscent of halos.


These centrifugal, circular shapes feature prominently in early works such as the palette knife oil painting, Lucia and the Wave, 1961-62 and a graphite drawing, Untitled (Round Icon Collage), 1962. She later began to look to the asymmetries and aesthetics of Japanese ukiyo-e. This is seen most overtly in Hiroshige Revisited II, 1988 and a companion painting, Streamers II, 1989, rendered in the distinctive materials she utilized the last several decades of her career – lavish brushstrokes of acrylics overlaid with lustrous, feverishly applied graphite line.


This exhibition’s title references the title of the inaugural group exhibition at the influential Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, Objects on the New Landscape Demanding of the Eye. Gechtoff was exhibited alongside Clyfford Still, Richard Diebenkorn, Jay DeFeo, Frank Lobdell, and John Altoon. This 1957 show was immediately followed by Gechtoff’s first major solo show, also at Ferus Gallery.


 Sonia Gechtoff exhibited during her lifetime at institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco; The Menil Collection, Houston; and the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. She was also notably featured in the 1958 Brussels World Fair and the 1960 São Paulo Bienial, organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. She had solo exhibitions at galleries including Ferus Gallery, Poindexter Gallery, Gruenebaum Gallery and Kraushaar Gallery.


Works by Sonia Gechtoff are in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Legion of Honor, San Francisco; Denver Art Museum; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Academy of Design, New York; Oakland Museum of Art; Stanford University, Palo Alto; Worcester Museum of Art; and the San Jose Museum of Art, among many others.

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