Be it zany, 'bookish', or surprising, it's art of interest; Three new N.Y. exhibits

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An exhibition of wonderfully zany pictorial comments on our present-day civilization has just opened at the Galerie St. Etienne here. Included among these drawings and collages is a drawing of a cat with a listening device for mice; a man walking over a small bridge -- the central portion of which is a huge razor-blade; a delightful couple, elegant in every respect except for the fact that the man's head is a tuba, and the lady's hat is a large lock; and a wonderfully colored fruit stand open and operating in the middle of a blizzard.

These and many other slightly off-kilter images like them are the work of Eugene Mihaesco, the Rumanian- born artist-illustrator whose drawings and collages have graced numerous New Yorker magazine covers, and and even larger number of pages in the New York Times. While he is well known for his participation in group shows in Europe, and for his contributions to various international design magazines, this is his first comprehensive one-man show in this country.

There is nothing innocent about Mihaesco's art although it's easy enough to smile at his images -- even to see them as highly personal and witty cartoons. And neither is his vision of reality an easy one: The very worst this century has been able to do it itself lurks deep under the calm, even though eccentric, exteriors he shown us. What we see is merely the top layer of a highly complex, emotionally charged, and multilayered reality descending, in geological fashion, to depths incorporating a multitude of things and experiences. Among them are the caricatures of Grandvile, the detailed engravings of turn-of-the-century Sears, Roebuck catalogs, the surrealism of Ernst and Magritte, Mihaesco's experiences behind the Iron Curtain, his years spent in Switzerland, and his fascination with the landscape and character of New York.

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But there's more, and what that is is hard to put into words. It has to do with mood and with cultural imagery, fr Mihaesco has a remarkable insight into this century's Zeitgeist, an extraordinary grasp of how to combine elements of Kafka's psychological atmosphere, the linear style and wit of Klee and Steinberg , the haunting emptness of di Chirico's space, the derisive anguish of Dada, the paradoxes of Ernst -- the list endless -- into pictorial ideas and images that then somehow leap beyond their historical inspirations and crystalize as highly personal and unique statements that direct themselves most immediately to a particular audience at a particular moment in time.

Mihaesco is a citizen of the world and of his century. Like his picture of the cat whose natural alertness to the activities of mice has been electronically augmented, he has found some special private means with which to perceive what lies under the surface of this complicated civilization of ours.

If I have any criticism at all of his work, it's that it still partakes a bit too much at times of Steinberg's idiosyncracies. But that's a small matter, and will, I'm certain, straighten itself out in time.

This excellent show at the Galerie St. Etienne will remain open to the public through April 11. Kubach-Wilmsen

At the other end of the art spectrum lies the sculpture at Wolfgang and Anna Kubach-Wilmsen on view at the Staempfli Gallery here. This husband and wife team is responsible for the creation of a veritable library of books made of marble, onyx, and granite. These are of all sizes and shapes, colors and textures, but what they all have in common is that they are made of stone and cannot be opened and read.

And yet, oddly enough, these pieces communicate a remarkable sense of "bookness." The smaller ones especially (and there is a large "bookcase" filled with roughly 60 of these), give one the impression that they could actually be petrified books containing Blakes's poetry or Elizabethan plays -- or possibly old medieval works on alchemy. These richly surfaced and/or old-looking works have been so subty shaped and polished, and their bindings and pages have been so delicately suggested, that they immediately feel familiar when picked up and held in our hands.

But they also look quite extraordinary as sculpture -- especially those that are oversized for books and thus have an existence that is more visual than tactile. Among these are some truly monumental pieces representing such things as a stone newspaper, and various large and ponderous-looking tomes.

It's quite a show -- and will remain on view at the Staempfli Gallery through March 28. Joyce Treiman

It is always a pleasure to follow the career of a painter who never stops working at his or her art -- and who thus keeps presenting us with one surprise after another.Such an artist is Joyce Treiman, an exhibition of whose sprightly and colorful paintings has just opened at the Forum Gallery here.

Treiman is a figurative painter -- but one with a difference. And that is that her paintings of people and things have linear elegance, a sly wit, and a gay abandon seldom found in a genre that usually takes itself extremely seriously. Her work does not partake of the glum expressions, the self-consciously ponderous attitudes toward life, or the heavy-handed attempts to be profound that characterize altogether too many of the figurative painters of her generation. Which is not to say that her art is not human or humane -- only that it concerns itself with the vitality of life and not with its destructions or erosions.

Her surprises this year are two magnificent forest landscapes. I call them landscapes although they are really explosions of sheer joy masquerading as color, the kind of riotous color the young Matisse burst forth with shortly after the turn of the century. To view these paintings is to share with the artist her wonderfully rich and exuberant sense of life. That would be quite enough, but we are given more: The lady also draws beautifully!

This lively and colorful show at the Forum Gallery will close March 26.

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