Ross Bleckner: New Paintings, Nov. 7-Dec. 19, 1998, at Lehmann Maupin, 39 Greene St., New York, N.Y., 10013.
Ross Bleckner's suite of five large oil canvases reaffirms his position as one of New York's foremost painters.
Neither clearly figurative nor abstract, this new work is suggestive of an intricate cellular iconography. Small clustered cells create larger and subtly luminescent organisms. Four of the five canvases -- each 120 x 108 in. and all dated 1998 -- have a pared-down gray palette tempered with a golden glow, while the fifth is a grayish, soothing indigo. They all share the same vibrant glassine surface and labor intensive brushwork.
The concentric patterns of Signaling Pathways possess the quiet power of a modern meditative mandala, equally balanced between volume and ornamentation. The tonal subtleties of the radiantly spiraling circles perfectly counter the potentially eye-straining intricacy of the pattern.
Curiously, Bleckner gave the same title to more than one painting. In one version of Tolerance, yellow orbs bubble forth from a gray background like chicken fat in slowly boiling water. The other image titled Tolerance looks like cellulite under a microscope. But in spite of the potentially abject references, both images are beautiful. Here is Bleckner at his most painterly, creating entire cosmos in single cell-like structures, balancing light and dark, the vast and the tiny, to create a restrained vitality.
Bleckner's activist response to the AIDS crisis has ranged wide, transforming his art and spurring the organization of successful fundraisers. The microscopic life examined in this show can be read as a kind of mystical rebirth, a celebration of survival. As the second decade of the AIDS epidemic comes to an end, these gorgeous paintings are an eloquent testament to human effort.
New paintings by Ross Bleckner are also on view at Mary Boone, Nov. 11-Dec. 19, 1998, 745 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10151.
ILKA SCOBIE is a native New Yorker who writes poetry and art criticism.