When new ideas pop up, apply the test of authentocity

Innovation and authenticity don't always mix in art. The innovatively inclined artist can easily go off the deep end, and the artist for whom authenticity is of prime importance often tends to prefer what is familiar and safe.

True innovation, however, is authentic. It arises in response to basic cultural tensions, and needs -- and thus articulates, and in turn is validated by, the society it represents.

The 20th century abounds in highly innovative art whose authenticity becomes more clearly established every year. Although the best-known examples are by our outstanding masters, a considerable number were crated by lesser-known (and often geographically isolated) artists whose reputations are only now beginning to become established.

One of these is Joaquin Torres-Garcia (1874-1949), the subject of a current small but remarkable exhibition at Salander-O'Reilly Galleries here.

Born in Uruguay, Torres-Garcia received most of his art training in Spain. After exhibiting in Barcelona (where he befriended Picasso and completed a variety of commissions), he moved to New York in 1920 for a two-year stay. This was followed by a prolonged trip to Paris, before he returned to Uruguay in 1934 for good.

Torres-Garcia's art is modest and warm, and smacks of the earth and of earthen things. It is, however, based on some of the most advanced and sophisticated of modernist theories -- including constructivism, cubism, and the nio-plasticism of Mondrian. It also draws heavily upon the spirit and imagery of pre-Columbian art.

The works themselves are mostly pictographs, and are generally flat and compartmentalized, with highly simplified, hieroglyphiclike signs and symbols occupying the compartments. The color, if not actually monochromatic, is limited to very few hues -- and not very bright ones at that. The overall effect is of warm, smallish paintings divided into geometric areas in which stylized representations of almost everthing under the sun make their appearance in a frontal, frieze-like manner.

Described that way, these paintings may not sound like much, but in actuality they are among the most satisfying (if relatively minor), works of art I have seen in quite some time. To see a dozen of them is to want to see three dozen more.

What makes them so satisfying is the uncanny balance they achieve between mysteriousness and decoration. One minute they appear highly magical and full of the accrued wisdom of the ages, and the next they exude the warm physicality of Indian blankets or pottery designs. And this is as true of the simplest sketch as of the most fully realized painting -- or any of the rough wooden constructions also included in the show.

This is a lovely and moving exhibition. Its art fuses the best of 20 th-centruy European modernist painting theories with echoes of pre-Hispanic Ameican Indian art -- and serves as living proof that art can indeed bridge geography and time.

At the Salander-O'Reilly Galleries through Oct. 3. Alan Davie

Another artist who deals wonderfully well with mysterious signs and symbols -- only in this case with more expressionistic vigor and color -- is the Scottish painter Alan Davie.

Davie's symbols are very much in evidence in his current exhibition of paintings and gouaches at Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer Gallery here. Not only are they in evidence, they positively sparkle as they evoke the enigmatic forces from which they derive.

Davie is a freer and more flamboyant spirit than Torres-Garcia, and a more improvisational one. His art dances and prances, is less controlled by geometry or art history. But his themes, in the deeper sense, are much the same, and have to do with native ritual and religion (he spends six months of every year painting in the Caribbean island of St. Lucia), as well as with the forces of nature.

Many of the works on view concern themselves with "earth spirits," and exist as homages, offerings, and altars to them. These take the form of bright, colorful, and delighfully spritely gouaches in which happily simplified objects, letters, signs, and symbols prance about as exuberantly as children on a beach -- which is not to say that Davie's art doesn't hint at darker forces, only that they are kept beneath the surface until some later time -presumably later that night.

At Gimpel & Weizenhoffer Gallery through Oct. 3. A New Gallery in Town

A new gallery featuring Old Master paintings, watercolors, and drawings, as well as a choice selection of 19th-century French art, is just opening here.

Noortman & Brod, New York, is the joining together of two wellknown London galleries: Brod Gallery and Noortman Ltd., both of which established themselves as respected specialists in their fields. An advance look at what they will be showing indicates that New York will be very much enriched by the presence of this gallery. Not only is the work itself superb (it includes, among many other items, a wonderful Ruisdael, and outstanding works by Maies, West, Isabey, Theodore rousseau, Boudin, Ribot, and Harnignies) it is also in remarkably good condition.

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