One useful service offered by summer group exhibitions is the chance to try something a bit more easygoing in the absence of high-season pressure. “Intimisms” is a splendid example, a warm and likeable selection of figurative paintings and drawings that riffs on the legacy of the Intimists, a group of turn-of-the-20th-century artists known for its loving embrace of the domestic and the familial. Co-organized by artist Aliza Nisenbaum—and inspired in part by critic and curator Chris Sharp’s essay on her work—the 26-artist show presents a relaxed and richly human study of the range of moods and meanings to be found in that special personal connection between artist and subject.
Where Sharp points to the fragile status of intimacy today, describing it, rather acidly, as “won through the increasingly rare act of paying attention,” the artists in “Intimisms” focus on moments that, while often fleeting and humble, manage nonetheless to take up residence in the memory. Very often, this involves the subtle physical and psychological interactions of figures with interiors. Original Intimist Pierre Bonnard’s mid-1920s paintings of his wife, Marthe, in the bath are perhaps the best known examples; they’re echoed in this show by other nude studies such as Sylvia Sleigh’s Max with Angels (1999) and Lucian Freud’s typically exquisite Small Figure (1983–84), as well as by Louis Eilshemius’s much earlier (and rather eerie) Untitled (Nude at Bath) (1917).
In other works, intimacy is conveyed not through the whole body but in isolated fragments and gestures. A 2014 canvas by Jordan Casteel shows his mother’s blue-black hand draped across one knee, two fingers slightly crossed. Without knowing anything more about the subject than her familial relation, we immediately sense the naturalness of her pose. Hands also play a central role in Giordanne Salley’s endearing image of a fireplace, feeding the flames while a pair of socks dries on the mantelpiece. A gemlike colored pencil drawing by Ellen Altfest tightens the focus further by juxtaposing two fabric surfaces—a rug and a blanket, perhaps—with a small patch of slightly hairy, slightly bruised-looking skin.
Elsewhere, the show’s tender, introspective cast is underscored by an emphasis on private acts and objects. Patricia Treib and Jennifer Packer, for example, show their subjects absorbed in solitary reading, while in Nisenbaum’s Maria’s Archive (2016), a package of sketchbooks stands in for its titular maker. Finally, Gahee Park’s Night Talk (2016) features a lolling, naked couple talking on the phone, even as they share their beds with others. In depicting this all-too-current scenario, Howard’s cool, sleek tableaux neatly and entertainingly highlights the timelessness of the show as a whole.