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Back to Reviews 96

From a Fragment of The Race Track, 1895-1910 by Albert Pinkham Ryder

racing forms
by p.c. smith
a gallery tip sheet

Robert Morris
at Leo Castelli

Jan. 11-Feb. 8, 1997

In four massive paintings, Robert Morris struggles to reconcile his baroque romanticism of the `80s with his Minimalist procedures of the `60s. Each work is a rectangular grid of one-foot-square panels, measuring seven tall by 18 long; each panel is painted separately, using encaustic to create congealed liquid textures. The color tends to glaring extremes of somber browns and bleached pastels. Mounted on heavy welded steel racks, the abstract panels form into crude landscape images, most of threatening storms, derived, their titles indicate, from fragments of paintings by Ryder, Inness, Church and Cezanne.

The procedure of painting separate panels in grids, reminiscent of Jennifer Bartlett, seems to have no systemic or additive point here, except to allow Morris to build up huge compositions without being over- committed to any one section. Instead, the insistent grid frames the paint in the sort of crisp, machined architecture favored by corporate buyers. Morris' overwrought vision of apocalypse, which in the past took the form of an all-consuming firestorm, is subdued here to the foreboding of an oncoming thunderstorm, but his vision is still escapist. Rather than a sudden storm, the destruction of Earth's humanity, I fear, is an irritatingly slow and banal process, needing keener observations to be noticed.