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by John Zinsser
|In November, a troika of "conceptual" abstract painters -- David Reed, Fabian Marcaccio and Carl Ostendarp -- had new shows up in the Chelsea art district in New York, offering ready comparison.
Reed has been accused of making the same elegant painting over and over. His cinematically lit, frozen brushstrokes move through velvety-dark, fractured geometric spaces. Now, he seems to be working hard to break open his language. In his exhibition at Max Protetch, Reed presented a group of works that are more Pop, urgent and restless.
Reed has abandoned his skinny rectangular format and gone boxier and bigger, moving his imagery into open, pictorial space. The red-on-red #449 is a violent tangle of sanguine brushstrokes, with color like smashed cherries, silhouetted sign-like against a pristine white ground. Reed has cast aside refinement in favor of measured chaos, as if irritated with his own finesse. The paintings are priced between $45,000 and $55,000.
Marcaccio inaugurated Gorney Bravin and Lee's new street-level space on West 26th Street with a large-scale installation titled Time-Paintants. He covered the unfinished plywood exterior facade with a computer-generated photomural worthy of Times Square, measuring 17 by 82 feet. The more sculptural piece in the interior space (first made for the Vienna Secession building this past summer) is a three-sided panorama suspended from a biomorphically shaped frame of metal tubing. In the work, brushstrokes morph into representational things: peace signs, guns, dollars, hypodermic needles, human hearts, crowds of people, etc.
In a kind of literal nod to formalist self-reference, Marcaccio has long used images of the weave of the canvas as one of his major motifs. Here, he carries this conceit to a magisterial extreme, making woof and weft an exceptionally animated part of the painting. The weave pattern expands up to the size of rope and breaks apart to reveal fuzzy images of nude women in the interstices. The artist applies dollops of paint and clear acrylic gel to make his surface tactile, more "real." Manic pictorial invention, solipsistic obnoxiousness and technical wizardry go hand-in-hand to convincingly confrontational ends. It seems that Frank Stella is getting a run for his money.
Ostendarp exhibited a single large painting that filled the long wall of XL's modest space. (Did he perhaps take the gallery name as a literal prescription?) The acrylic on linen work, titled The Navigator, begins with a classic Color Field format, a 20-foot horizontal expanse of thinly painted, uninflected sulfur yellow. But on the painting's right edge, this pristine field is interrupted by a rudely impinging pink leg and foot, toes splayed as if caught mid-wiggle.
More understated and sly than Reed or Marcaccio, Ostendarp gently tweaks the viewer's associations about abstraction. This is figure-ground painting at its most singularly peculiar and playful ($20,000).
Speaking of Color Field, one of the movement's underappreciated practitioners, Sandi Slone, presented strong new works at Cristinerose, her first solo show in a New York commercial gallery in 10 years. (Slone showed from 1977 to 1984 at Acquavella Contemporary.) Using a coarse-bristled pushbroom for a paintbrush, Slone "sweeps" expanses of color towards central, vertical crevices of paint that open up an illusionistic space. Working wet-into-wet, Slone plays literal slabs of pigment against the pictorial color field. And in giving her works titles such as Lips, Thigh Smoke and Cherry, she plays up their associations with the female body ($4,500-$15,000).
Of a younger generation, Jacqueline Humphries at Greene Naftali seizes upon lyrical abstraction's process-driven legacy as a means to create image-specific iconography. Her signature enlarged dots and pours of paint have updated works from the likes of Slone and Larry Poons into a surprisingly personal language. Now she's moving transitionally into daring territory, as her expanses of oil paint and isolated gravitational drips have come to directly reference spatial illusionism.
The verticality of an isolated white drip against a black brushed horizontal background neatly weighs rationalist geometry against a brooding, romantic void. They look like cyber-seascapes. Imagine peering off the deck of a polar ice-breaker at night toward spectral atmospheric phenomenon -- that's the experience alluded to, with a touch of high-tech distance. The chill is palpable ($5,000-$24,000).
Also seen: The curious career trajectory of young-gun Richmond Burton -- from geometric formalist to decorative hedonist -- is seen in full effect at Cheim & Read. Burton's former mostly black, grid-based structures have given way to patterned fields of color that are downright floral, and evoke the pleasures of Viennese decorative arts. What has remained consistent is Burton's strong graphic sense (he trained as an architect), and his ability to nicely weigh gesture against structure -- always a satisfying quality in painting.
Jimbo Blachly, a promising sculptor showing at Elizabeth Harris, made an installation of brightly painted piled woodblocks that cleverly cross-reference geometric abstract painting through refreshingly simple means ($3,000 per 100-piece segment).
At Margaret Thatcher Projects, Timothy Litzmann pulled a similar trick of material transformation with his austere acrylic diptychs. The paint is applied to the sides and backs of pieces of Plexiglas, causing the colors to softly diffuse as wanly projected light -- think Brice Marden monochrome as flat-screen TV ($2,400-$8,700).
David Reed at Max Protetch, 511 West 22nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
Fabian Marcaccio at Gorney Bravin & Lee, 534 West 26th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001.
Carl Ostendarp at XL Xavier LaBoulbenne, 504 West 24th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
Sandi Sloan at Cristinerose Gallery, 529 West 20th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
Jacqueline Humphries at Greene Naftali, 526 West 26th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001.
Richmond Burton at Cheim & Read, 521 West 23rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10001.
Jimbo Blachly at Elizabeth Harris, 529 West 20th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
Timothy Litzmann at Margaret Thatcher Projects, 529 West 20th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
JOHN ZINSSER is a New York painter and writer.