A rewarding look at a short-lived approach to art. Metaphysical Painting given fresh attention

In De Chirico, Modigliani, Morandi, and Giacometti, Italy has given modernism four of its best artists, and in Futurism, one of its most important movements. But that wasn't the extent of its contributions, as the accomplishments of several other artists and movements prove. Ranking high among them were Carlo Carr`a (1881-1966) and Metaphysical Painting, a short-lived theoretical approach to art formulated by Carr`a and De Chirico in 1917 in order to give form to what they believed was the ``mysterious'' nature of ordinary objects.

Before its demise around 1920, Metaphysical Painting saw the production of a number of significant paintings, including a few by Morandi, and the publication of several influential essays by Carr`a. The latter's interest gradually shifted, however, and by the mid-1920s, he was deeply involved in other areas.

Unfortunately, Carr`a's work is not well-known in the United States, a situation the Kouros Gallery here has tried to rectify by exhibiting 50 drawings and one painting from his early years. These range from 1908 to 1922, include examples from both his Futurist and Metaphysical periods, and run the gamut from rough sketches to preparatory studies for major paintings.

Of particular interest are the studies for three of his most famous pictures, ``The Child Prodigy,'' ``The Cab,'' and ``Romanticism'' of 1915 and 1916, as well as a portrait sketch of his Futurist friend Umberto Boccioni and a 1922 rendering of a woman and a dog in an interior.

Intriguing and even valuable, in an art historical sense, as these drawings are, however, they do little more than whet our appetites for more of Carr`a's works, especially his paintings. The one canvas that is included is a minor one and tells us little about the true nature and impact of his art.

Even so, I recommend this exhibition. It's a significant clue to an artist and a movement that should be better known.

At the Kouros Gallery, 23 East 73 Street, through June 30. Cremonini paintings

Leonardo Cremonini is an Italian-born artist who first made his mark in the 1950s with turbulent, Picasso-inspired (especially his ``Guernica'' period) paintings, but who has since become increasingly more ``classical'' in format and introspective in theme.

A number of his recent oils and watercolors, the majority dating from the 1980s, are on view at the Claude Bernard Gallery here.

Several are very large, a few are diptychs, and all make their points crisply and colorfully, if with considerable indirection.

Mr. Cremonini confronts his viewers with pictorial enigmas, with exquisitely designed compositions whose figures, environments, and objects just miss making literal sense. And whose full effectiveness, as a result, hinges largely on the viewer's willingness to decipher their meanings.

These ``meanings,'' however, are far from precise and always remain open to further interpretation.

The three figures running toward one another with such apparent joy in ``The Last Games of Summer,'' for instance, appear more alienated and less likely ever to get together the more one studies them and the painting as a whole.

And similar ambiguities exist in most of the other canvases. For all their elegance and beauty, they remain vaguely disquieting. Not in a negative sense - they are much too life-enhancing for that - but in a way that challenges the viewer to keep on probing for what lies within and beneath these pictures' handsome exteriors.

At the Claude Bernard Galleries, 33 East 74th Street, through July 10.

From northern Europe

Many Americans still have difficulty accepting the work of the German Expressionists, especially the paintings of Emil Nolde, Erich Heckel, and Max Pechstein. If these artists' color isn't perceived as too brash and their drawing as too ``clumsy,'' then their distortions and compositions are seen as too violent and their overall mood as much too intense or brooding.

One way of gaining more sympathetic access to these painters' work and intentions is through their smaller, more intimate oils, watercolors, and drawings. And a good place to start is at the exhibition of generally more modestly scaled northern European paintings and works on paper at the Lafayette Parke Gallery here.

In addition to choice examples by Nolde, Heckel, and Pechstein, there are excellent pieces by, among others, Campendonk, M"unter, Macke, Jawlensky, Schmidt-Rottluff, and Kirchner. Of particular interest are a tiny, early oil study by Kandinsky; Feininger's delightful watercolor ``Thursday''; a small Schwitters collage from 1928; and a rare Hilla Rebay collage and watercolor.

At the Lafayette Parke Gallery, 58 East 79th Street, through July 11.

Soutine exhibition

And finally, the Perls Galleries at 1016 Madison Avenue is showing a small but select group of paintings by the Russian Expressionist Chaim Soutine (1893-1943). It will close on June 30. Also on view are a few paintings by other members of the School of Paris.

More art news: Page 27

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