Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic "I have a Dream" speech, delivered during a march on Washington for civic and economic rights on August 28, 1963, continues to resonate as an expression of hope for a world of equality and peaceful coexistence. The recent holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired gallerist Janet Lehr to curate an exhibition that explores various kinds of profound dreams through a source of inspiration that's close to many an artist's heart:  the landscape.

"Magnificent landscape paintings enable us to ‘dream’ and images ‘transport’ us to a healthier place," Janet Lehr said.

In this spirit, the exhibition "I Have a Dream - Magnificent Landscapes" opened on January 19 and continues through February 13, 2019. The show takes a wide view of art inspired by the landscape and includes modern and contemporary art, as is the gallery's custom. It also presents landscapes and abstract paintings that may be inspired by the landscape on equal footing.

"Abstraction expresses all that surrounds us," Lehr wrote in a text, citing biblical references to God's creation of heaven, earth and every living thing. "Landscape and its abstract underpinnings are a vast, all-encompassing wonderous subject. Therein rests the splendor of "Magnificent Landscapes" at Janet Lehr Fine Arts."

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"Through The Clouds" by Jules Olitski, 1997. Pastel on paper, 22.5 x 30 inches. Photo by Pat Rogers.

"Through The Clouds" by Jules Olitski, 1997. Pastel on paper, 22.5 x 30 inches. Photo by Pat Rogers as installed in "I Have a Dream - Magnificent Landscapes" at Janet Lehr Fine Arts.

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"Landscape – Trip Advisor Top Pick for 2018" by Haim Mizrahi, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches. Courtesy Janet Lehr Fine Arts.

"Landscape – Trip Advisor Top Pick for 2018" by Haim Mizrahi, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches. Courtesy Janet Lehr Fine Arts.

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It is immediately apparent this is no ordinary landscape show. The Main Wall introduces the diversity of the show by pairing two modern figurative works—each set in a landscape—with an abstract contemporary painting by Alaleh Ostad, who is new to the Janet Lehr Gallery stable.

The artworks also introduce the idea that figuration and the historical trajectory from modernism to contemporary art are important threads that will weaves within "I Have a Dream - Magnificent Landscapes."

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Installation of "I Have a Dream - Magnificent Landscapes" with "Dance Rythmn" by F. Luis Mora, c. 1914, Pastel on paper, 19.50 x 13.25 inches on left; "Assimilation" by Alaleh Ostad, 2018, Oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches in center and "Beach Conversation" by Milton Avery, c, 1938, Watercolor on paper, 22.40 x 15.25 inches. Photo Courtesy Janet Lehr Fine Arts.

Installation of "I Have a Dream - Magnificent Landscapes" with "Dance Rythmn" by Francis Luis Mora, c. 1914, Pastel on paper, 19.50 x 13.25 inches (left); "Assimilation" by Alaleh Ostad, 2018, Oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches (center) and "Beach Conversation" by Milton Avery, c, 1938, Watercolor on paper, 22.40 x 15.25 inches (right). Photo Courtesy Janet Lehr Fine Arts.

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During my initial walk-through, a trio of traditional landscapes on the back wall anchored the show. The centerpiece, Meeting of Land and Sea by Balcomb Greene, 1975, is a commanding painting depicting a craggy mountaintop cloaked in snow. It was bookended by two landscape paintings by Robert Dash:  The Mallows at Sage Pond, 1975, and Rain Across Sage Fields, 1975.

I particularly enjoyed noting all three paintings were made in 1975, providing a window into a specific year in art making by two different painters who lived and worked in The Hamptons. [Balcomb Greene (1904-1990) had a summer studio in Montauk and Robert Dash (1938-2018) worked from his home and gardens year-round at Madoo in Sagaponack, NY (now Madoo Conservancy).]

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"Meeting of Land and Sea" by Balcomb Greene, 1975. Oil on canvas, 62 x 56 inches. Photo by Pat Rogers.

"Meeting of Land and Sea" by Balcomb Greene, 1975. Oil on canvas, 62 x 56 inches. Photo by Pat Rogers.

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"The Mallows at Sage Pond" by Robert Dash, 1975. Acrylic on french rag paper, framed 59.25 x 47.25 inches, 42 x 30 inches, Courtesy Janet Lehr Fine Arts.

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From there, it was an easy leap to examine the contemporary abstract painting on the opposite wall by Adam Handler. Unusual to see a Handler painting without figuration, East Hampton, 2012, rings true to a Hamptons landscape with its deep greens, vibrant golds and delicate light purples. The same can be said of Handler's Miami, which hangs in the front gallery. Pinks, aquas and whites co-mingle in an active composition that channels the energy of Miami and the nearby ocean beneath a shining sun.

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"Miami" by Adam Handler. Courtesy Janet Lehr Inc.

"Miami" by Adam Handler. Courtesy Janet Lehr Inc.

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Since my visit, the landscapes along the back wall were reset with Meeting of Land and Sea by Balcomb Greene now flanked by abstract paintings by Polish-American artist Theodore Roszack (1907-1981) and Israeli-American artist Mizrahi. The change was made to emphasize the movement from modern to post-modern to contemporary art to demonstrate that "modernism is alive and well," said Lehr.

The Dash paintings are still part of the show and are installed in new locations. Rounding out modernism in the back gallery is Three Horses on a Hill by Wallace Putnam, 1974. The painting has an impressionistic feel but is rendered with strong defining lines. Putnam was a new artist to my ears and Lehr explained he is relatively unknown, despite having exhibited in major museums.

Perhaps his first claim to fame arrived when Putnam (1899-1990) was invited to exhibit in the 1926 landmark "Societe Anonyme International Exhibition" at the Brooklyn Museum, the biggest avant-garde show since the Armory Show of 1913. His prime as an artist may have taken place in the 1960s and 1970s, according to a New York Times article by Vivien Raynor, with his art being exhibited in group shows at the Whitney Museum, the Neuberger Museum of Art at SUNY Purchase and New York University's Loeb Center.

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"Three Horses on a Hill" by Wally Putnam. Courtesy Janet Lehr Inc.

"Three Horses on a Hill" by Wally Putnam. Courtesy Janet Lehr Inc.

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In general, I found landscapes by Jules Olitiski particularly appealing on the modern side. Made in the latter part of his life, Through The Clouds, 1997, and Moon Bay, 1998 (Pastel on paper, 18 x 24 inches) are arresting atmospheric works that are compelling for both mood and the way light was imparted in the paintings.

On the contemporary side, Dave Rogers's painting Warrior Fish, 2018, was one of the strongest contemporary painting in the show. Warrior Fish is striking in its overall composition, nuanced colors and narrative aspects. Clearly figurative, the artwork made a lasting impression.

In a phone interview with Rogers (no relation to this writer), he explained the colors are a unique blend that come from mixing pigments from different parts of the world. Hand-selected for their unique elements and combined specifically for each painting, colors (especially the blues) are designed for vibrancy and to sing out and enhance the portrait, he said. For despite its surrealistic feel, Warrior Fish is a portrait made by observing a model during live sittings.

Part of his newest "Fish Head" series, each model’s portrait centers on the body alone and is paired with a complimentary fish head later in the work that channels defining personality traits. The fish head also must seamlessly connect with the model's physical characteristics to appear as the person and the fish were made for each other, he explained.

The landscape look in the painting is inspired by years living in Southern China. The fish also connect to China as it was typical to see fish hung out to dry on a clothing line. Symbols that appear as calligraphy are a unique language developed by Rogers to tell a story from his life. The stories are a mystery to viewers and may be as intense as the colors Rogers creates. Made to be pleasing to look at, the artworks may also contain hope for easier days for the model or the world itself.

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"Warrior Fish" by Dave Rogers, 2018. Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches. Installation photo by Pat Rogers.

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Also noteworthy were two realism drawings by Shimon Okshteyn of tools (one in each drawing) that were installed below Warrior Fish in an area the gallery devoted to figuration.

Adam Umbach's Lawn Décor IV, 2018, was another contemporary work that intrigued as it wove compositional elements not typically found in Umbach's work. In an interview, Umbach explained the painting is part of a new series inspired by patterned wall coverings where he layers objects of nostalgia on top of scraped paint in dramatic abstract areas made in the style of Gerhard Richter.

Like Warrior Fish, Lawn Décor IV conceptually makes use of bright colors, happy imagery—flamingos (as lawn ornaments but also inspired by flamingo's habit of mating for life)—to create a narrative painting which explores what’s close to the artist's heart. The positioning of the flamingos give rise to the impression of a scene in motion and whatever happens next is anyone's guess.

"Flamingos mate for life and in this painting there are only three," Umbach said. "Where is the fourth one? Why are there only three? There is something more going on here that meets the eye. There’s something taking place off the canvas that isn’t apparent yet."

The duality of the flamingo being a bird as well as an iconic plastic lawn ornament is a quality Umbach enjoys about this painting. "I'm interested in manufactured beauty and the contrast to the real world,” he said.

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"Lawn Decor IV" by Adam Umbach, 2018. Oil, enamel, and paint pen on canvas. 48 x 60 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

"Lawn Decor IV" by Adam Umbach, 2018. Oil, enamel, and paint pen on canvas.
48 x 60 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

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"I Have a Dream - Magnificent Landscapes" provided plenty of food for thought on the role landscape and a sense of place can play in art making. The work in the show also reflected the ways dreams can influence art—sometimes in subtle ways which are more easily felt that seen.

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BASIC FACTS: "I Have a Dream - Magnificent Landscapes" is on view January 19 to February 13, 2019 at Janet Lehr Fine Arts, 68 Park Place, East Hampton, NY 11937. For more information online, visit Janet Lehr Fine Art's Exhibition Listing by clicking here.

Contact the gallery directly by calling 631-324-3303 or emailing janetlehr@janetlehrfinearts.com. The show also includes art by Wolf Kahn, Gideon Lewin, David Demers, Paul Georges, F. Louis Mora and Colin Christian.

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Copyright 2018 Hamptons Art Hub LLC. All rights reserved.

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