THE BLOG
01/20/2011 09:15 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Quality Rises

It may be cold, but there's some very fine, meticulously rendered, seductive, charming art by two women whose works are at opposite ends of the aesthetic spectrum. Both are exhibited internationally more often than in the United States. Both use graphite extensively, have reduced color in their paintings, and make beautiful work.

Jenny Scobel's exhibit of paintings opens at Firecat Projects tonight. Her work focuses on vulnerable people -- mostly women -- in postures they appear to have agreed to pose in, but they don't look quite comfortable. Her process is apparent. She draws in graphite and erases and draws again. The tilt of the shoulder may change and the sitter's mood with it. The backgrounds could make beautiful works of art all by themselves. There's a sense of vulnerability in the people we're looking at, which leads me to feelings of empathy and a desire to take care of someone. I feel more tender, calm and trusting after viewing this show. Already, I want to go back.

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Michelle Grabner wears so many hats in the art world, but first and foremost she is an exceptional artist. To me, this exhibit that opens Saturday at Shane Campbell, is a new body of work, a not-quite logical extension of her work from the last few years. Still delicate, considered, without room for error, the new work is even more complicated. Like gingham, the paintings, which are predominantly graphite on panel, reference historical women's work. The mindless activity -- the drone of domestic tranquility. The patterns, the repetition, the unforgiving process which doesn't tolerate error seems almost colonial to me. A different kind of standard, more strict and sincere, makes a priority of ability -- a quality that has all but disappeared in so much of contemporary art making. Grabner's 'performance' here is like a musician's solo, rising above the cacophony of those who wish they could join the orchestra. Both these women are exceptional. Together they stand alone.

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I believe it isn't sufficient for an artist to have something to say. For me, it is imperative that they have the ability to say it. Daily, more art gets passed off as being more accessible because it is mediocre -- thereby allowing less sophisticated people an easier time comprehending it. Hogwash, go to the Art Institute or any other museum with quality. Take a look at which paintings have the most people in front of them.

The public isn't stupid. They know what is good and what isn't. Of course, there are philistines condemning all culture as a waste of time. Screw them and the hell with those who are subservient to mediocrity. Art is about excellence, growth, motivation and possibility.

And these two women, Jenny Scobel and Michelle Grabner, are a tribute to the transcending power of quality.

Thank you,
Paul Klein