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Exuberance under control. Idelle Weber brings dynamic balance to paintings of garbage, flowers

THE art of the 1980s frequently receives a sensationalist press -- which isn't surprising, considering its strutting heroes, glitzy extravaganzas, and strident, well-rehearsed apologists and claques. Closer observation, however, will reveal that today's art is also characterized by the extraordinary professionalism and creative integrity of a somewhat older generation of artists whose roots go back to the days of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Miminalism: artists such as James Turrell, Jennifer Bartlett, Terence La Noue, Robert Kushner, Tino Zago, Robert Birmelin, Nancy Graves, Alan Magee, Neil Jenney, Jerome Witkin, Gregory Amenoff, Elizabeth Murray, and Joseph Raffael. These -- among a few others -- are the painters and sculptors who truly dignify the '80s and who -- since most are still in their 40s -- will continue to contribute significantly to the art of our time.

They will not, of course, receive the media attention given to the likes of Julian Schnabel or David Salle -- but then, neither do they risk being forgotten in six or seven years. What they have, they've earned and have every right to keep.

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No one has earned membership in this group more than Idelle Weber, a painter who first made a name for herself in the 1970s with Photo-Realist paintings of fruit stands and city trash, and who has since turned much of her attention to the depiction of brilliantly hued flowers and other plants. These are confined within or play contrapuntally against rigidly defined garden enclosures or architectural structures, conveying an overall impression of disciplined profusion, of exuberance kept under civilized


Some of her very latest paintings are derived from fragmentary views of the gardens of Giverny, Versailles, Villandry, and Vaux-le-Vicomte. They incorporate precise representations of balustrades, bridges, decorative motifs, and more prosaic architectural details. By playing these off against dense masses of foliage, floral groupings, and richly patterned reflections in pools, Weber creates an effect that is cool, elegant, and lyrically classical, barely hinting at the ease with which nature could rei mpose its kind of order were these beautifully designed evidences of advanced civilization to be abandoned.

It may be only a hint, but we get the message, nevertheless -- as indeed we have all along in her paintings. With few exceptions, they have always represented an exquisite balance between the ordered and the casual, between the disciplines of art and the apparent disorder of nature. In her earlier trash and garbage pictures, disorder, even a mild form of chaos, generally won out -- not because her canvases were not well composed, but because such straightforward depictions of society's waste products remains too full of ironic and even tragic implications ever to serve as successful icons of order.

Flowers, on the other hand, were a different matter entirely -- especially when brilliantly colored clusters of them were given crisp new formal identities in beautifully groomed gardens or elegantly designed waterside arrangements. Weber's most recent works, in particular, achieve truly extraordinary levels of visual enchantment and formal balance by the shrewd and sensitive orchestration of such diverse elements as dramatic ornamental units incorporating rococo floral motifs; bulky, richly textured

architectural forms; vivid trompe l'oeil effects; and carefully massed flowers and foliage.

Her generally very large and stunning canvases are sumptuously painted in a manner that takes maximum advantage of the texture, color, and design of every individual object without in any way violating the subtle chromatic and linear orchestrations of their compositions. As a result, they are as effective at close range as at 30 feet and are ideally suited to serve as murals.

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Interestingly, her exhibition last month at the Ruth Siegel Gallery here indicated that she is moving even further toward a purely monumental format and that her hitherto loosely contrapuntal approach is being tightened and enriched by the inclusion of at least a touch of actual three-dimensionality. Where this will lead is anyone's guess, although it will obviously provide her future work with even more complex spatial and decorative devices than it has so far had at its disposal. Certainly, her rec ent attempts to create greater pictorial ambiguity by separating panels and then placing them at slightly different distances from the viewer, or by appending trompe l'oeil details onto obviously hand-painted images, have considerably expanded her formal and expressive vocabularies.

But then, she has always been remarkably open to anything that would help direct her talents more efficiently. She has used the camera as effectively as though it were a ``super-eye,'' taking notes and gathering the visual information that is then translated into thousands of small daubs and smears of paint that constitute her images. And she has never shied away from pushing color relationships to the ``exploding point,'' or from placing the most intense and vivid hues against dead grays or velvety bla cks. She is, in short, a very special artist whose evolution has been consistent and fascinating to watch, and whose dedication, imagination, and talent make her more than worthy of inclusion in the small but exceptional band of painters and sculptors who are bringing dignity and respect to the art of the 1980s.

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