BY ROB REED
© Terry Winters, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery
Cricket Music, Tessellation Figures
February 4 - April 14, 2012
Matthew Marks Gallery
522 W 22nd Street, 502 W 22nd Street
The art of Terry Winters takes some time. His recent show, "Cricket Music, Tessellation Figures & Notebook," hanging at two of Matthew Marks Gallery's locations on West 22 Street, presents two separate and concurrent bodies of work - thirty small collage works at 502 and eleven large paintings at 522. It's not the size of the show that challenges the viewer; it's the seductive complexity.
The large, carefully and densely painted works offer both quick and slow reads. They have an immediate striking force through bold colors and dominant shapes, yet also honor more meditative looking as the arranged visual elements begin to reveal their networked relationships and individual character.
This vibrant complexity is partly due to Winters' intimacy and love for the facticity of paint itself, his connectedness to the material make-up of his art. While his preoccupations with scientifically-related ideas may be an overriding compositional force in his work, he also grants the oil and ground pigment their own brief autonomies, able to attack any formal structure with surprise. This pulsating restlessness is built into the artist's picture-making math.
Winters' color pallet is saturated and energetic, often relying on direct color complements (most often red-and-green or blue-and-orange) to set the octave of each piece. All the paintings in the show are structured in some fundamental way around a tessellation, or surface plane created by repeating geometric shapes such as those found in honeycombs or the black and white pentagonal patterns of a soccer ball. In the artist's current process, the tessellations are rhythms of parallelograms that appear somewhat like the negative spaces made between the rope grids of a net. Flat, curving, or spinning in circles, these tessellation planes operate pictorially as both figure and ground, creating dynamic surface tensions that both open up and resist the viewer's optical entry.
Cricket Music, 2010, oil on linen, 88 x 112 inches, is deceptively simple in its form. Painted in blues and purples with occasional sparks of orange, the tessellation of four-sided patches spans most of the canvas' surface while receding in space at the sides and top, making a pillow-like form. As the individual patches float and the unifying constellation curves, viewer perceptions of presence and absence oscillate so intensely the effect is somewhat existential. The network of shapes is fragile and precarious in places. Smaller fragments in the middle and down the left side are broken and un-joined, which poses a question about the structure's nature, whether it is in a process of self-organizing or decomposing.
In the smaller exhibition space at 502 West 22 Street is a selection of the artist's notebook collages that bear no obvious relationship to the paintings. Instead, they bear witness to the artist's associative intelligence and cognitive disinhibition, the necessary conditions for creativity. Found imagery, often digitally printed on regular-size sheets of transparency paper, are overlapped and stapled at the top to a solid off-white sheet of paper.
Notebook 188, 2003-2011, at 11.5 x 8 inches (the same size as the rest of the works), overlaps a photograph of the top half of a roller coaster loop with a transparent blue rectangle containing a line diagram plotting coordinates of some kind. The bisected vertical ellipse echoes Robert Mangold's space-dividing methods, but that superficial relationship isn't what makes it interesting. Movement through space in Notebook 188 is charted graphically (literally in the graph), photographically (in the roller coaster), and compositionally (in the overall directional forces moving your eyes around the page). This observation isn't to decode the work or suggest object lessons in space are in view; it is only to suggest that the time spent absorbing these works will be paid back in full.
March 15 - April 21, 2012
Lehmann Maupin Gallery
540 West 26 Street
"The safest road to Hell is a gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts." –Screwtape
This is the description of man's spiritual descent the mentor demon Screwtape gives his junior "tempter" and disciple Wormwood in C.S. Lewis' enlightening novel "The Screwtape Letters." Being a good devil is hard work and mapping the terrain of human temptation is central to it.
The paintings of Detroit-based artist Hernan Bas in his solo exhibition "Occult Contemporary" at Lehmann Maupin, explore such terrains with exciting results. Danger is ever afoot in his large-scale landscapes –craggy cliffs, broken bridges, and fallen trees. The works are sparsely populated with a sole young man disconcertingly relaxed amongst and within rocks and wooded thickets. On occasion an ominous and threatening presence is seen, or at least certainly felt: it's just the Devil doing his nine-to-five.
Hernan Bas, A Satanist on a Tuesday (or, The Key Master), 2012
Acrylic, airbrush, silkscreen and block print on linen, 84 x 72 in.
Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York
The title of the show is Bas' wry riff on "Adult Contemporary," a musical genre that bears relations in character similar to Screwtape's hell-bound trajectory –a "gentle slope, soft underfoot." Also in mind is the wave of superficial interest in the dark arts (through movies such as Twilight) that is for Bas not serious enough.
In A Satanist on a Tuesday (or, The Key Master), 2012, a mixed-media painting standing eight feet tall by seven feet wide, Bas situates his young protagonist in the middle of a creek that rushes past a badly dilapidated (but judging from the chimney smoke, inhabited) house, as rocks in the foreground display scrawled color graffiti. These hieroglyphs on stone perhaps reveal the content of our main character's mind, as he holds up a key that locks or unlocks exactly what we are not sure.
The paintings are rich with haunting ambiguities extending beyond their narrative content. Bas' paint-handling ranges from energetic and broadly gestural to obsessively detailed and naively clumsy, as large chunks of his compositions scrape, bump, and chafe against each other. His colors are intense and at times garish, though always fitting, heightening a sense of the unexpected, ratcheting up suspense.
At a time when abstract painting is so popular in New York, Bas' work demonstrates that viscous invention and verve need not be reined in just for the sake of depiction and storytelling. In fact, it would appear that for this artist cryptic narratives, informed by myth and folklore, are exactly what unleash all these startling and memorable painterly events.
March 3 - April 7, 2012
980 Madison Avenue
ALBERT OEHLEN Untitled, 2009-2011. Oil and paper on canvas, 82 11/16 x 106 5/16 in.
© Albert Oehlen. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.
Standing in front of the paintings by Albert Oehlen in his first exhibition with Gagosian Gallery, several questions arise. The immediate questions are of the artist's intent. For example, what is it? The follow-up questions are reflexive to art-making or painting itself. How can representation and abstraction work together, or painting fit with photography, or hand-wrought mark-making be reconciled with mechanical, computer graphics?
The ground on which the artist begins to paint is a large canvas –six or seven feet high by seven or eight feet wide– partially covered with enlarged commercial photographs that are cropped, cut, and arranged in such a way that allows limited recognition of their subjects. Signage text or stenciled words –"power" was one– also appear as substrates underneath the energetic application of paint, which is labeled as oil, but acrylic or latex might be there too.
The paint colors and overall palettes take their cue from the printed material beneath. This is the most apparent and strongest connection between the found imagery and painted passages; it isn't in the joining of shapes or directional lines. (In the recent past, such as in his 2009 show at Luhring Augustine, found imagery and text dominated the compositions while paint was just a smudgy interlocutor.)
Oehlen's way with paint in this exhibition indulges full-on the sweeps and fitful gestures of Abstract Expressionism, recreating its egotism and urgency, while also being devoid of the personal or emotional necessities that gave those distinctive gestures their meaning. Several works in the show feature strokes created with the artist's own fingers (he's done this in the past), as if to up the ante on what counts as painterly authenticity, or perhaps mock the possibility of authenticity itself.
Allowing the paint more license gives these works an expansiveness. The areas where he chooses to rub, scrub, and wipe are not dead spaces. They have an air to them. The mixing of hues creates an activated gray, which is different from, say, a deadpan Gerhard Richter gray.
ALBERT OEHLEN FM 53, 2008-2011.
© Albert Oehlen. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.
Photo by Lothar Schnep
The artist describes himself as "post-nonfigurative", which seems more like art historical posturing than explanation. There is no empirical evidence, at least in this show, he is wrestling with pictorial problems that would be unknown to a de Kooning or Rauschenberg decades ago. What is to be relished in is pure sensation.
Taken as pure sensation that hits the nervous system without passing through the brain (as French philosopher Gilles Deleuze might have put it), these paintings are a real pleasure. The theoretical rhetoric, and even the set of questions mentioned above, can be set aside as gratuitous or post-hoc.
deep wood drive
March 7 - April 26
420 W 20th Street
It is unlikely that conceptual artist and sculptor Tom Burr intends much psychological comfort for the viewers of his show "deep wood drive" at Bortolami Gallery. Although the most seductive works in the show are called "Cloud Paintings", there is little airiness in the artist's mournful, self-interrogating, minimalist aesthetic to keep one's spirits light. Instead, an aching tension fills the exhibition rooms in a dull but palpable way.
The exhibition's title refers to a location where the artist was raised and experienced instances of "trauma and ecstasy". These unnamed events are recalled and symbolically recast into the several large floor and wall pieces, all created this year. Center stage is Baited Like Beasts (a moon viewing platform): a steel cage roughly eight feet cubed, with four window openings and no door, a tipped-over chair and low-hanging, illuminated spherical lamp.
Courtesy of Bortolami Gallery and Tom Burr
In the rear room is another free-standing piece also connoting entrapment. An Orange Echo consists of two sets of three velvet theater seats facing each other. Each trio of seats is encased in mirrors below, to both sides, and in the back. By projecting one's self into this seating arrangement, a confusion between subject and viewer is instantly created, or perhaps a category of the egocentric predicament: no person can view the world or access reality outside of their own perceptions or mental representations.
More provocative are the "Cloud Paintings", which are not paintings at all, but braced wood panels six feet square, covered with wool blankets that are folded, pleated, and thoroughly pinned down with black upholstery tacks. All but one of the blankets are dark, either black or blue, with the folds eliciting a sense of discomfort and sleepless nights as the meticulous tacking-down induces an unnerving sense of permanence.
Courtesy of Bortolami Gallery and Tom Burr
This psychic tension is acute in Untitled Pink Piece because the wool is not only more soft and sensuous in hue, but the silk edge (a bed blanket's most pacifying feature) is exposed and runs down the entire left side. The upholstery pins securing the fabric to the wooden structure allude to the pricking or piercing of skin and the metal feels violent and foreign, like steel rivets puncturing through a pillow.
The smallest works in the show—less than two feet square each—are similar in construction to the Cloud Paintings, now using t-shirts or sweatshirts in lieu of bed-size blankets. The compactness of these works intensify the metaphor of being bound, one with a sweatshirt folded and stapled upside down, allowing a sleeve to hang freely as the other is fixed flatly across the front like a straitjacket.
Burr takes the austerity of Minimalism and gives it a haunting, personal meaning. He extracts and projects his own psychological states onto his materials and challenges viewers to do the same.
Rob Reed is a freelance writer based in
New York City. He may be contacted at