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What makes a gallery fascinating?

Any good art dealer puts his personal stamp on his gallery. He (or she -- many of the best dealers are women) may do so by the kind of art shown or by representing only the very latest -- or most traditional -- ideas, forms, or styles. The dealer may include only younger artists or ones who verge on the idiosyncratic he or she may focus exclusively on such areas as early American paintings, on prints, or photography.

The delaer may also bring a flair to the selection of a wide range of styles and approaches, a generosity of spirit in bringing together the old, the new, or the in-between -- with quality being the only criterion for what is hung.

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He or she may have a sense of style, a special quality, an overall elegance that makes us feel that what we see in such a place would automatically confer class upon us were we to buy something and take it home with us.

My favorite kind of gallery, however, is the kind that appears to be the direct expression of the dealer's own taste in art -- that reflects the dealer's special interests, training, even prejudices, and that provides the regular visitor with a continuity of quality and point of view.

One such is the Allan Frumkin Gallery here. As uptown New York galleries go, it's about average in size, with just enough space to show a handful of new (and generally large) paintings and sculptures and a few other pieces by gallery regulars. Yet I always feel just a slight tingle of excitement as I get off the elevator, for I know I will be seeing something a bit out of the ordinary -- even though I'm fully aware it will be either seriously "realistic," or flamboyantly and colorfully iconoclastic -- the two categories of art handled by this gallery.

The current Frumkin show is no exception. "Drawings Into Painting and Sculpture" consists of six major new paintings by Philip Pearlstein, James Valerio, Alfred Leslie, Peter Saul, Luiz Cruz Azaceta, and William T. Wiley, a new sculpture by James Surls, and preparatory (or related) drawings for each of these works.

I found three of the major pieces extraordinary and two others interesting, to say the least. The drawings served the double purpose of helping to illuminate the artists' creative processes and to give us a clearer idea of how (and how well) each of these artists functions with pencil or crayon.

Philip Pearlstein's "Model in Dogan Chair, Legs Crossed" is one of the best paintings of his I've seen in recent years, and an object lesson in drawing, composition, and tonality. This is imaginative professionalism of a very high order, and although not strictly to my taste (I find it a bit dry and cold), I cannot deny this picture's quality and importance.

James Valerio's "Differing Views" is also successful -- although not quite as much so as his "Card Trick" recently seen in this gallery. for one thing, there is a touch of artificiality and stiffness in the painting of the woman -- and the man's reflection in the window is ambiguous and not fully realized. Also, in minor details throughout the composition, verisimilitude wins out over art.

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It all somehow doesn't really matter, though, for the painting as a whole works very well, and proves once again that Valerio is one of the best realists around.

Valerio's four preparatory drawings included in the show are also of particular interest, especially the early version of the full composition and the pencil study of the dog. Of all the artists represented, Valerio is the one who lets us see the most deeply into how he goes about preparing for and completing a large painting.

Alfred Leslie's "Instant Pictures" shows that artist very close to the top of his form in a picture that combines warmth of characterization with his usual clarity of design and draftsmanship. It may not be as monumental as many of his works, but it is a great deal more charming.

I was also impressed by Peter Saul's "The Humble Cowboy" (even if one doesn't care for whatm Saul paints, one can still admire the waym he does it), and by William T. Wiley's "Little Ladder for Mays." Luiz Cruz Azaceta's "Trees of Light" is certainly boldly painted and colorful but beyond that offers little. And James Surls's sculpture hadn't arrived the day I saw the show.

As a whole the works add up to an interesting and worthwhile show. It will remain on view at the Frumkin Gallery through Aug. 14.

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