Chelsea Art Exhibit Brings Realism to Mainstream

February 15, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
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NEW YORK—Garnering a lot of attention and museum-like foot traffic, an atypical art exhibit in Chelsea celebrates a side of contemporary art that is out of the limelight but is quietly but surely gaining strength.

Where a usual Chelsea art exhibit might feature pop art or some other form of contemporary art that is often difficult for the untrained observer to appreciate, many of the works in the Resolve exhibit can be instantly appreciated by anyone for their photograph-like realism.

“With this realism form, you can hit these universal chords—it will come across— even if you don’t know exactly what it is, but it is something very moving and spiritual. That honesty plays a big part in great art,” curator and artist Tony Curanaj said.

The show, now at the Joshua Liner Gallery, features 25 artists, mostly painters, whose works are rooted in classical art traditions and training. Much of the art falls under the umbrella of contemporary realism.

This is the first in a series of annual, artist-curated exhibitions planned by Joshua Liner, whose gallery is nestled among hundreds of other galleries in the ultra-hip Chelsea district of Manhattan.

Among the painters featured, are founders, teachers, or graduates of such influential institutions as the Water Street Atelier, Grand Central Academy of Art, New York Academy of Art, Ani Art Academy, and Janus Collaborative School of Art.

Their resolve is not going unnoticed.

“For several reasons, this a very important show,” states realist artist Matthew D. Innis on his art blog. “First, … Curanaj has taken an active role in promoting contemporary realism rather than just lamenting the position of classically based art in the world.

“Second, this show marks another major inroad into the Chelsea Arts District. Since the mid-1990s, when the modern artists left SoHo and re-established the contemporary art scene in Chelsea, there has been little room for [realist] artists among the 350-plus galleries in the area,” Innis said.

Exhibits’ Popularity

Curanaj believes people in general are over the mediocrity in the contemporary art world and are naturally drawn to beauty.
“The opening night was jam-packed and has apparently been packed since with visitors. People are coming in to see the exhibit like they would a museum,” Curanaj said..

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Gallery owner Joshua Liner is not surprised the show has been so successful, having sold roughly 50 percent of the works already. “I knew the quality of the works was strong,” he said. Prices for works in the exhibit range from $750 to just under $40,000.

Liner says he represents three of the artists, and many are established already with collectors who follow them, so to him, the exhibit isn’t that unusual. But “a lot of people are saying it’s different for Chelsea,” he said.

“Often, with all the Chelsea galleries, whether it’s street level or not, outside of the opening party, they’re pretty dead,” Curanaj said. “My theory is that people do think great artists and craftsmanship are important. Modern trends aside, people are drawn to beautiful things, things that are made carefully with great skill and talent, and [they] are sick of mediocrity.”

Curanaj started as a graffiti artist who went to museums to appreciate fine art. Now he is a professional artist and an art teacher at the Grand Central Academy, balancing his work with being a husband and father. Two of his paintings are also in the exhibit.

Mastering painting hasn’t come easy to Curanaj, but therein lies the beauty of it. One can instantly be amazed at his paintings, imagining the time and skill that went into them.

“What we’re doing here is bringing a type of art into an area that is used to seeing modern contemporary art styles, and people are really responding to it—it really proves my point,” he said.

What Makes Great Art?

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Once the artist reaches a level of skill where he or she could paint realistically almost anything, the subject matter becomes very important in determining whether an artwork is fantastic or forgettable.

Beyond technical mastery, Curanaj highlighted the need for a good concept for the subject. He gave the Hudson River School artists of the 19th century as an example.

“They painted nature, monumental paintings of beautiful scenery, but they believed they could see god in and through nature. So you can see in their works great depth and meaning,” he said

Kara Lysandra Ross, director of Operations for the Art Renewal Center and an expert in 19th century European painting, agrees.

“What an artist chooses to paint is of the highest importance,” said Ross, reflecting on Resolve, in an email. “A good realist artist should capture more than just the outward appearance of something. This takes more than just technical skill; it takes an innate understanding of the human condition.”

She pointed to one work in the exhibit titled “Portrait of an Iris,” by Kris Kuksi.

“It is more than just a painting of a flower. It captures the life essence of it. Its petals seem to be opening before the viewer’s eyes,” Ross said.

Resolve runs from Jan. 26 to Feb. 25. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Phone 212-244-7415.


Daniel F. Gerhartz, Carefree

The term “contemporary art” has long been associated with the modernist and postmodernist movements because at the time those trends emerged, the words “contemporary art” or “modern art” also meant the art of the day. However, these movements started decades ago, and today the terms have become misleading. A new movement of living artists is taking back the word “contemporary” and associating it with the traditional techniques of the old masters … READ MORE HERE