Harvey Dinnerstein’s New York

Harvey Dinnerstein, "Bethesda," 1998-2011. Pastel on board, 39 x 58 ¼ inches. © 2018 Harvey Dinnerstein, courtesy Gerald Peters Gallery, New York.
An UES retrospective of a realist painter who evokes the rhythms of city life
by dave elder

How well do you know the city? Though you might have the major landmarks memorized, NYC has so many odd and unique corners that no one can know them all, so if you see “Harvey Dinnerstein’s New York” at the Gerald Peters Gallery, you may recognize some familiar places. The show might also introduce you to some others that you hadn’t previously encountered, particularly if you haven’t spent much time in Park Slope, Brooklyn. In addition, even some of the familiar scenes might reveal a few interesting angles from Harvey’s perspective that you hadn’t noticed before.

And what would make “Harvey Dinnerstein’s New York” worth a look? As a realist artist, Dinnerstein has spent most of his nine decades depicting the rhythms of NYC life, so if you appreciate that painterly quality of expression that can capture the essence of daily pedestrian moments and render them in a memorable way, you might very well find Harvey’s work engaging. Maybe you won’t personally know any of the cast of characters that enliven the collection, but you might very well feel as if you do know at least a few of them, and perhaps you may have bumped into one or two on the street, though Dinnerstein’s portrayals could make them deserving of much more than a passing glance.

One aspect of “Harvey Dinnerstein’s New York” that will surely grace the gallery walls will be his images from the MTA. Subway scenes have lit his creative spark for decades, possibly beginning during the early 1940s, when he regularly rode the train from Brooklyn to attend the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan. In fact, Dinnerstein has a 2008 book entitled “Underground Together” that features a significant portion of his underground output, copies of which will undoubtedly adorn a special spot not far from the framed hangings.

Harvey started young with realism, forming a small “outsider” group with other like-minded rebels at Music and Art who opposed the modernist orthodoxy promoted by the faculty, their fellow students and the art world in general, which had strongly embraced abstract expressionism. These rebels would continue to pursue realism in whatever manner suited them, and in early 1961 they mounted a group show called “A Realist View” in Manhattan as a statement to the art world establishment. They attempted to awaken the general public to their efforts to continue and further expand the representative art traditions of an earlier era. Their show didn’t create the kind of ripples they had hoped, but the lack of response did not dampen their enthusiasm for realistic expression, and they each carried on the struggle to update realism and make it meaningful in the modern context. As Harvey nears the end of his ninth decade and the beginning of his tenth, realist art seems to have regained a certain amount of respect and appreciation, and the Gerald Peters retrospective will showcase some intriguing samples from Dinnerstein’s journey.

On a side note, over his career Dinnerstein has portrayed other points of view in addition to NYC. In late 1955, he visited the Montgomery bus boycott that triggered the civil rights movement, accompanied by his wife, art historian Lois Dinnerstein, along with his close friend and fellow realist Burt Silverman. He traveled extensively over the next two decades, depicting major newsworthy events of the time, and even spending a year in Rome. Dinnerstein amassed an extensive array of likenesses, and perhaps a selection of those may adorn the walls of a nearby gallery at some point in the future.

The exhibition at the Gerald Peters Gallery at 12 East 78th Street will run through March 16. You can find out more about the gallery from their website at www.gpgallery.com. The 2011 movie “The View from Here,” about Dinnerstein and his realist artist circle, has a website at theviewfromheredoc.com.