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A broad look at various works by Harold L. Cohen at Manuel Barreto gallery

Across Mediums
A broad look at various works by Harold L. Cohen at Manuel Barreto gallery

Former dean of the UB School of Architecture and Environmental Design Harold L. Cohen, now age 90, doesn’t seem to be slowing down a bit. An exhibit of his recent paintings, prints, and sculpture is currently at the Manuel Barreto gallery, 430 Delaware Avenue, near Edward Street.

Mostly prints and paintings, ranging in style from rigorously abstract to sketchy representational and gradations in-between—some of the most interesting works are in gradations in-between—and subject matters from what looks like whimsical personal to matters of human rights, the matter of genocide, in Third Reich Germany and current day Darfur. And a few sculptural pieces, including a burnished stainless steel maquette for a proposed larger-scale work, a pillar construction of concave hexagons. Very handsome, very beautiful.

The graphic works—prints in various techniques and paintings—range in motifs from cosmic circles and spheres—-nature on a grand scale—to more earthly scale—layered horizons of natural condition wetland terrains and grassy vegetation and water and sky. Among the genocide works, several depict anonymous victims of the Holocaust. A sketch realist scenario group of young and old people in something like peasant garb, entitled Waiting for Selection, May 1944, Auschwitz-Birkenau. And negative reverse of the same or similar scene—the human figures in silhouette solid black against a Venetian blinds abstraction background—entitled On the Ramp, May 1944, Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Other more abstract genocide theme—or likely still genocide theme—works are more powerful aesthetically by virtue of the non-particularity of forms, but also perhaps politically in the universality of victim reference they permit. Two works in a minimally representational mode—entitled Manscape II and Manscape V—depicting ranks of vaguely decipherable human figures seemingly—in the context—awaiting pogrom destruction. And several Genocide Darfur works in a roughly similar mode. Small groups of human forms standing eloquently impassive in the face of murderous military/political purposes. Other Genocide Darfur works—works with the same root title are distinguished by sequence numbers—revert back to more recognizable forms. Mothers with babies and children, amid other soon to be victims.

And the most powerful and beautiful of the genocide pieces, titled Auschwitz-Birkenau simply on the piece itself, Auschwitz-Birkenau #1 on the exhibit items list. A combination of architectural form—an overarching dom—and various indistinct human and/or animal figures inside it. Reminiscent as to overall form—gestalt—of Raphael’s great philosophical hemisphere painting The School of Athens. But then in a second moment—startlingly—a furnace form. One of the ovens of the unspeakable.

Also among the prints, some wonderful pattern abstracts with titles such as Emerging Form—again, multiples with sequence numbers—and more referentially, Marshland, and Hail Storm, and Buffalo Winter.

And whimsical abstract, a piece called Dr. Myron Levine, Microbiologist, composed of a jumble array of little circles on circles, rings on rings. Views through a microscope? Specimens?

An anomalous sketch realist architectural piece depicts an ancient structural complex at Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Last week the artist gave a talk on his work and his life, and the Goldilocks principle of how you know when art is art. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right. And how as an artist you get to that point. By trial and error, and most important, by not giving up. He talked about his various artmaking tools and techniques, and how you choose among them for a given piece, by what you want to say in the piece, what emotion you want to express. And artistic training with the New Bauhaus under tutelage of the great László Moholy-Nagy. He talked about his years as UB dean as rather an interruption of his artmaking career. After retiring from his UB dean job, at age 75, and with some trepidation, as he described it, he returned to his studio. But not missing a beat, apparently.

Also on view in the show is his work called In Space, a finalist work in the Art Olympia Competition 2015 in Tokyo, Japan.

In one of his books—on art and architecture and life—Cohen talks about the Japanese term shibui, referring to “an object or group of objects which are done so beautifully and so well they become the essence of beauty. The essence of excellence.” Some of the works in the current show achieve that standard.

The exhibit continues through June 26.

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