One of the more rigorous creators of specific objects, Max Estenger has returned to the art world with a vengeance. After years as the "eminence gris" behind the now defunct Steffany Martz Gallery, where he helped discover future stars like Mungo Thomson as well as exhibiting his own work, Estenger dropped out of the scene to teach public school in Queens.
Old friends like his ex-dealer Renee Riccardo would occasionally run into Max on the subway, and Max famously refused an offer of patronage from Ross Bleckner, but basically the Latino firebrand was simply "disparu." Apparently, he never stopped making art, however. His new works are a splendid escape from the formalistic straightjacket Max lovingly caressed all those years ago, when wood, plastic and primary colors formed the boxes that made his name, before the current boom arrived.
Max's new stuff emerges in two concretized streams: splendid stripes which psychedelically advance the concerns of Ellsworth Kelly and Gene Davis, while being far superior to both. These paintings are numbered sequentially: "27, 28, 29. . ." Day-Glo Orange is his secret here, as Max splits the atom of light into one different spectrum after another.
As a countermove, Estenger's sculptures made of sheetrock with sporadic cumshots of white spackle amount to a dry-humping of Judd from a same-sex perspective. They are the dirty joke contrast to the spiritual awakening of his paintings. A buff and brawny mini-titan at 43, Estenger may yet escape the constraints of his internal exile and become the star he wasn't sure he wanted to be. If not, as artists are wont to say, "There is always the work."
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).