Sidney Janis Gallery: a world-class champion of modernist art

Although most art galleries have fairly short life spans and little, if any, clout, a few manage to thrive for decades and to wield enough influence to become major art-world institutions. Of no New York gallery is this more true than the one Sidney Janis opened in 1948 to exhibit the very latest in modernist art. Since then, no gallery has been more influential, and none has presented more important shows.

In addition to representing some of America's best and most innovative painters, the Sidney Janis Gallery has, over the years, shown the work of many recently deceased and living European masters. Since most of these artists' paintings, drawings, and sculptures were of excellent quality and were available at pre-inflationary prices, an exceptionally large number of them grace the walls of important museums and collections.

It seems entirely appropriate, therefore, that the gallery should mount a wide-ranging exhibition devoted to many of the European artists it has championed, and altogether fitting that the majority of the works on view be of remarkably high caliber and on loan from various public and private owners.

Nothing proves more clearly the respect in which this gallery is held than that art of this quality and distinction is seldom lent to anyone, not even to highly regarded dealers.

Very rarely is a commercial gallery able to assemble eight Giacomettis; six Mondrians; five works by Matisse and Arp; four each by Klee, L'eger, and Braque; two each by Brancusi, Mir'o, Gris, Schwitters, de Chirico, Dali, Dubuffet, and Klein; and individual pieces by, among others, Malevich, Lissitzky, Rodchenko, and Torres-Garc'ia.

And even more rarely will one find such modernist masterpieces as Balla's famous and delightful Futurist painting, ``The Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash,'' Matisse's important early ``Young Sailor,'' Braque's ``The Black Rose,'' Arp's ``Enchanted Nest,'' Klee's ``Departure of the Ghost,'' L'eger's ``The Breakfast,'' Mondrian's ``Composition (Blue, Red & Yellow),'' and Picasso's ``Lady with Fan'' hanging on a 57th Street gallery's walls.

But there they are, in a show every bit as impressive -- if perhaps not quite as moving -- as the gallery's recent tribute to Giacometti.

It's impressive, not only because of the quality and importance of its star attractions, but because it includes a few outstanding examples by artists who are currently neglected or held in disrepute. Every carefully assembled exhibition of 20th-century modernist art -- no matter how small -- should, of course, attempt such a balanced accounting. Few do, however, either because the desired pieces are impossible to borrow or find, or -- and this, unfortunately, is even more likely -- the person making the selections has a particular art historical or theoretical ax to grind and prefers to ignore certain artists entirely or to represent them with indifferent work.

That, obviously, was not the case with this exhibition. The little-known Vilmos Huszar, the seriously underrated El Lissitzky and Kasimir Malevich, and the frequently ridiculed Salvador Dali are represented by paintings that prove conclusively that they deserve much wider recognition or greater respect than they generally receive. The fact that, in the case of Dali, the organizers of this show had to go all the way back to 1929 and 1938 for their selections is beside the point. Dali is not the only artist in this century to have lost his way in later years and to have to depend on his earlier creations for his place in art history.

De Chirico is another. He is represented by excellent, if not quite major, pictures from his early period that show him in a very good light and that, incidentally, clearly point out the invalidity of recent revisionist art historical claims that his only really good work was done in his later years.

I also suggest that particular attention be paid to Gris's ``Still Life,'' Schwitter's ``Gummiwaren,'' and Torres-Garc'ia's ``Construcivo con Objectos.''

At the Sidney Janis Gallery, 110 West 57th Street, through Jan. 25. Igor Galanin

There are artists who appear to have been born to charm and enchant. They paint highly romantic pictures of mysterious worlds filled with fanciful cities and landscapes, exotic creatures, lush foliage, and wistful, frequently somewhat melancholy people who seem disinclined to engage in strenuous activity.

These artists seldom concern themselves with the ``important'' formal issues of the day, make little or no attempt to become a part of the established art scene, and continue to paint their inner visions regardless of what the ``real'' world thinks of what they do.

I must admit to a special fondness for these painters, especially since even the good ones tend to be ignored by most critics. One of my favorites is Igor Galanin, who is currently showing a number of his wildly imaginative canvases here. Among his subjects are majestic jungle beasts, delightfully preoccupied lovers, fantastic buildings in landscapes, and a large, plump rabbit seated among giant strawberries.

At Aberbach Fine Art, 998 Madison Avenue, through February.

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