Partway around my second tour of the Sally King Benedict show of paintings and drawings pulsing with bright colors at Quogue Gallery, I was still searching for the right word for the arc sweeping upward in many of the works. Then I returned to the aptly titled Going Light and Bright Face. The painting—beaming out from the main wall in the light-filled rear gallery as the keynote to the exhibition—gave me the answer: The billowing gesture should be read as a smile.
Influenced by Kenneth Clark’s charming essay on “the smile of reason” in “Civilisation,” I suddenly could grasp the tenor of the whole “Through Ocean Eyes” exhibition in one welcome curve. As Clark recognized, the “smart” smile in the portraits of the age of Voltaire and the capable grin of Benedict’s sure hand in the studio stand in contrast to the vacuous laughter of the Rococo period, to which in our time we can add the grimace of de Kooning’s women, the vacuous idiocy of the emoji, or the smartass smirk of Jeff Koons. Benedict bestows the heartfelt smile of hospitality in these abstract answers to the faces of Alexei Jawlensky.