Sunday, February 22, 2009

Larry Poons at Danese

Larry Poons has a nice exhibition of new paintings at the Danese Gallery in Chelsea NYC. The exhibition runs through March 14, 2009.

Last man standing wins the prize. Larry Poons is arguably the best of the color field painters who had their start in the late sixties. This is the first chance I have had in awhile to see a complete exhibition of his paintings and I took the opportunity to do what most gallery goers don't do, I spent quite awhile in the gallery looking at the paintings.

Gone are the lumps and bumps , the excessive masses of paint seen in some of his earlier works, it is an improvement. The weakness of the "color field" paradigm is that so often the paintings can slip into mere decoration, 'paint treatments' on canvas, which lack anything other than the interesting facture found in a corroding wall. If you slop enough paint on a canvas, choosing your colors with a bit of tasteful decorum, you can create an object which has the fascination of detail found in a Gursky photograph or a painting by Dali.
Robert Pincus-Witten observes in the catalogue text: accumulating freshly-made gestures or suddenly-discovered past ones, Poons instrumentalizes chance (the very hallmark of Abstract Expressionist painting) as he moves along the canvas causeway… the painting oscillates back and forth from the local to the universal. 1 Traces of remembered landscape and distant figures surge and then withdraw into small energetic registers of cascading strokes. 2 Intensely individual and intimate, each definitive brushstroke becomes a part of the whole - the short and frenetic, the calm and the considered, the bold edge of confidence - an arena of action tamed by the sublime.[Danese PR]
I disagree with these observations to some extent. These paintings feel exploratory and to some extent timid or receding. I do not mean this negatively because I see the explorative process fighting against a half century of theory about abstract painting and the color field in particular.

What I found to be the great strength in these paintings, the one factor which saves them for me, is the the latent imagery which emerges upon close observation. What is timid is that its obscuration places it a tad below an optimal perceptual threshold.

It is this latent imagery which potentially can open up the pictorial space in these paintings which otherwise might disintegrate into a mess of colored marks piled up upon one another. A paintings surface is a reference point, but optically the mind can construct an optically true perceptual space which extends our reference both in front of and behind the picture plane (the surface of the paint).

Dan Colen's painting Miracle on 34th Street achieved this expansion of the perceptual space better than any painting I have seen in years.

Mr. Poons new paintings flirt with the representational or recognizable in a way which orders the pictorial and potentially expands the perceptual space.

I was very impressed with these paintings and see them as another potentially breakaway moment in the course of a very long career.

Larry Poons
Neptuno 2008
Acrylic on canvas
67-7/8 x 156-1/8 inches

Larry Poons
Molly Handsome 2008
Acrylic on canvas
68 x 101-1/4 inches

Larry Poons
20-20 And Blue 2008
Acrylic on canvas
68-3/4 x 107-1/2 inches

Neither my photograph or the jpegs on the Danese website do justice to these paintings, worse they make my observations all but intelligible because of the lack of detail. Note: I've added two additional pictures. While I color corrected the photographs I took, they don't resemble the images supplied by the gallery. In part this may be due to the gallery lighting and reflections off the wood floor. Whatever, that's web jpegs for you.
Danese Gallery {link to more iilustrations]
535 West 24th Street
6th Floor

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