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Making it in New York - what the young artist faces

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The alternative to not establishing career priorities right from the start is a possible lifetime of confused gropings and directional shifts - both creative and professional. A young artist approaching New York should see himself much as though he were a general confronting an opposing army. In such a situation it pays to know precisely who and what one is, where one is going, and the price one is willing to pay for victory or success. It sounds simple, but I would hazard an educated guess that barely one out of 100 youngsters coming to New York has that clear an idea of what he is doing - or why he is doing it. As a result, at the end of five years or so, the vast majority will have left art for something else, or will have returned home.

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There will also be a considerable number who will remain as satellites of the ''greats.'' For these, life will consist of the fact that they can call Robert Rauschenberg ''Bob,'' that at one time they stretched Larry Poons's canvases, that they once had dinner with Roy Lichtenstein, or that Jasper Johns calls them by their first name.Although they will continue to work at their art, it will gradually become less and less their own and become a common denominator of whatever their current heroes are up to. Before they know it, they will have become a part of that nebulous and somewhat sad art subculture whose members attend all the important openings, are seen at all the ''in'' parties, cannot finish a sentence without ''dropping'' at least one important name, and who yet look somewhat lost. Even the act of trying to interest galleries in his work can be a devastating experience for the youngster fresh out of art school, where he was considered something of a whiz - and obviously in line for great things. Things have improved a bit. Galleries are, by and large, willing once again to at least look at the artist's slides, photographs, and resumes. But the chances of ending up with a scheduled show are practically nil. The best he can realistically hope for is that a few of his pieces will be kept on consignment. If our young artist has very positive ideas as to what constitutes art (and what young artist doesn't?), he will probably only be interested in those galleries that reflect his own point of view. If he is extreme, the idea of exhibiting in any other gallery - and thus contaminating his work forever through association with ''unclean'' art - will most likely fill him with horror. The only problem is that the galleries he most respects are almost certainly already overstocked with established names. So what is he to do?One solution lies with the various younger dealers whose galleries are not yet major ones, but whose open attitude, knowledge, integrity, and taste argue strongly that someday they will be. One of these is Takis Efstathiou, whose Ericson Gallery on East 74th Street has dealt primarily with younger and more innovative artists for a little over three years. Although small, the Ericson stands out as one of the very few places north of SoHo and 57th Street where one can see the newer and more starkly painterly images emerging at this time. The Ericson Gallery's current exhibition features Edith Newhall, one of the most talented and promising of its artists, and one of the ever-increasing number of young women artists whose work , I suspect, will soon have a considerable impact upon the art of the 1980s. This show, her second at this gallery (and in New York), consists of extremely handsome paintings whose formal severity derives from a reductive process that reminds one vaguely of Hartley and Avery. And yet these works are totally her own, with subtle allusions conjuring up memories of nautical themes and events. Her color is luminous, with a particularly lovely pink dominating throughout, and with blacks that are as rich and full as any color. It's a lovely show. But it isn't only Edith Newhall's paintings that I like. I also admire her attitude toward her career and toward the art world in general: clearsighted, idealistic, yet intensely practical. She gives me a strong sense of confidence in her future as an artist. At the Ericson Gallery through Nov. 28.