Discovering a world of galleries -- in one building

Gallery viewing becomes more fascinating every year. Not only because artists are freer today to follow their own bent, but also because the galleries themselves are more willing to show art of all styles.

A few hours spent in SoHo, or along 57th Street or Madison Avenue here, introduces literally dozens of new talents with widely divergent backgrounds, styles, and creative attitudes.

At times one building offers enough good and lively art to fill the day.

Such was the case the other day when I visisted 29 West 57th Street here, a building liberally studded with galleries.

I was particularly taken with the sculpture of Bill Freeland at the Touchstone Gallery. I say sculpture for want of a better word, because these pieces, while three-dimensional, don't fit any conventional notions of what sculpture ought to be.

For one thing, they look like models for mysterious inventions, but inventions created expressly to delight and enchant -- not to serve out their time doing dull and mundane things.

Their beauty, and I can think of no better word, derives from subtle tensions between the utilitarian and the totally fanciful. To seem them, exquisitely and logically constructed, hanging from the ceiling or fro the wall -- almost doing something but not quite -- is to participate in a delightful game played between science and art.

The name of the game is balance and tension, and managing to create things seemingly out of thin air with little reference to the "real" world -- things which yet seem perfectly and beautifully a part of that world when completed.

These marvelous inventions of wood rope, canvas, steel, clay, glass -- you name it -- have the inner logic and balance of a Swiss watch, and the elegance of the finest art. Some, in their echoes of sails and hanging ropes, have nautical connotations. Others remind us of laboratory specimens and equipment, or seem to illustrate engineering principles. Still others stir elusive memories which never find their final verbal identity, but which, perhaps for that very reason, remain perpetually intriguing andd satisfying.

It is a beautiful show, and will remain on view through Oct. 29. Ray Lewis

The paintings of Ray Lewis at Haber Theodore Gallery are a different matter altogether. They are large and open canvases in which acrylic paint and pastels combine to create linear effects that at first glance resemble the patterns made on ice by a particularly fine figure skater.

But that's superficial comparison and tells nothing about the subtle blend of geometric form and delicate, muted color that make up Lewi's art.

These are highly active works, in which our eyes participate in the shaping of large circles, in following a straight line as it bisects a curve, or in responding to the way a set of arcs acts in counterpoint to flat or vertical straight lines. And all this in conjunction with colors that suggest but do not define naturalistic space and atmosphere.

These lyrically and quietly exultant paintings will be on view through Oct. 31. John Ferren

John Ferren (1905-70) is represented at A. M. Sachs by paintings of the u930s through the '50s. These include several of the early geometric paintings which helped establish his reputation, some transitional works, and the lively, color-saturated pieces of the late '50s.

Although Ferren never achieved truly major status, he did manage to establish and maintain a very respectable career for himself by creating an abstract art that was both very much of the time and definitely his own. This was especially true of his paintings of the 1950s, which sparkle with a coloristic life unlike anything else seen at that time.

This exhibition is by no means only of historical interest. A good half of the works on view transcend mere art-historical or stylistic classification. It will close Oct. 30. J. Esteben Perez

Fired enamel panels with geometric patterns may not sound very promising as art, but Chilean artist J. Esteben Perez has turned this essentially decorative craft into art by combining sophisticated Drawing and painting techniques with the traditional firing process.

The results, on display at the Sutton Gallery through Nov. 8, are extremely handsome pieces in which the artist rearranges combinations of checkerboard-type designs around a square format to create intriguing constructivist compositons.

The entire show is a set of variations on this one formal theme, and proves what imagination and sensibility can do with a simple premise. What makes it work so well is the subtle manner the delicate inklike lines used for shading and for directional indicators work in relation to the soft, pastel-like colors, along with Perez's ability to build and balance complex compositions through very limited means, at times with little more than slight shifts and gradations of gray. Others

Other shows of interest at 29 West 57th Street include Barbara Abram's light-drenched pieces made of chrome-plated brass strips at Bertha Urdang Gallery, and the fiber art of Josep Grau-Garriga at Arras Gallery. The latter is a vibrant and varied exhibition of tapestries of all shapes and sizes -- many of them existing more as sculpture than as traditional tapestries. The overall effect is extraordinarily colorful and exuberant, especially as the rich materials used for these tapestries are very much a part of what these works are all about.

These were the shows that impressed me the most in this building. There were others that struck me less favorably, and stil others that were coming down in a day or two. When one considers that all this art activity is taking place within one building, and that this building is only one of many such building housing galleries in this block between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, it becomes abundantly clear that art is a booming business.

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