The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 10-JAN 11

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DEC 10-JAN 11 Issue


On View
Lohin Geduld
October 13 – November 13, 2010
New York
On View
Cheim & Read
HANS HARTUNG: The Last Paintings 1989
October 29 – December 30, 2010
New York
On View
85 Metropolitan Avenue Gallery
October 8 – December 12, 2010
New York
On View
John Davis Gallery
November 11 – December 5, 2010
New York


When I look at Stanley Lewis’s paintings, I see places I’ve known. Though Lewis lives in Leeds, MA, to me these are New Jersey spaces, because those are what I know. They take me back to meandering walks through Teaneck, Montclair, and Bergenfield, to the familiarity of tree-sheltered suburbs with urban-scented air. They speak of the light in these places: harsh, northeastern light that covers but does not hold.

Lewis’s paintings are questions. How can paint address the quality of light and presence of a place so as to rival the experience of the place itself? Further, how does one establish one’s sense of being in any one place? If I am not sure, generally, whether my consciousness of being in a place corresponds to the experience of having fully inhabited that space, can I be said, completely, to have been there? These are questions for an ontologist, which is precisely my point.


Hans Hartung must have been an incredibly elegant European. Perhaps he was just the opposite, a vulgarian for whom painting was a way to express a side of himself that was otherwise inexpressible. At any rate, his deftness made the New York School seem brutish. He brought all the sophistication of a modern European to bear in paintings that economically fulfill every criterion and squelch every objection Clement Greenberg could have submitted. They are answers akin to those an ontologist might provide regarding the nature of existence. They embody certainty through mastery of technique.

Hartung’s accomplishment is what the grand narrative of art demands. Accomplishment is what the narrative is built on.


In the basement, Margrit Lewczuk’s florescent paintings are glowing. When the lights go out, their compositions change, sometimes reversing themselves. Several crucifixes are depicted. Lewczuk’s gentle touch militates against a didactic tone, which is how she gets optical art to seem so inviting (I’m a guy who doesn’t like to feel nauseated in front of paintings), and why Golgotha’s shades do not over-darken the room. What rather makes itself felt down here, and in the gallery above, where the paintings don’t glow, is the memory of a time when painting as an art form still had a chance of dictating the terms by which it was seen, a time before such attempts seemed so fruitless. They make me feel nostalgic, her paintings, though they are in no way so themselves. The deliberate movement of paint and distribution of color over their surfaces make me think, in no particular order, of Thornton Willis, Vered Lieb, Peter Pinchbeck, Gary Stephan, Robert Moskowitz, Lois Lane, Joan Thorne, Ron Gorchov, Stewart Hitch, Howard Buchwald, and a burgeoning moment in the late ?70s and early ?80s as though I was there, which I wasn’t. In short, they open a world of American painting.


I have been swallowed, digested, and regurgitated and this suits me fine.

Peter Acheson’s mission is to eradicate the line between being an artist and not being an artist through painting. His paintings’ poignancy derives in part from the artist’s awareness of the contradiction in this undertaking and his persistence in it nonetheless, like eating cookies because you know your dinner is ready. Now, having eaten the cookies, the shadowy figures of James Harrison and James Knight, bent over their respective, musty drawing tables, and Doug Quackenbush on his pilgrimage with decay, seem a little closer. The pathway back to Blake, via D. H. Lawrence, seems ever so slightly more askew, while the sharp divergence between it and the grand narrative, which we first learn to love, then to fear, seems a bit more clear.

There are multiple points of entry to this former pathway, and Acheson’s paintings are one of them.

On this path, my thoughts dissolve, the ends of each dispersing behind a deep, impenetrable thicket. The kind of thicket composed of an infinitely complex set of middle grays, like those one sees in late autumn, staring into a forest that has lost its leaves. I am left wondering what my thoughts meant and where they’ve gone—not a comfortable state, but a liberating one. Acheson’s paintings are resolutely disjunctive. He works in acrylic and oil on separate canvases, which do not permit comfortable passage from one to the next. If wet-in-wet oil painting seduces here, plastic acrylic will repulse there. Here is atmosphere, there dense materiality. Here, I am struck by the studied hand of a master, there (if I did not know better) I’m sure I see a novice at work.

And finally I find that I am not meant to follow in a linear way. I am not meant to consider the relative value of each painting, but to understand every act as affirming itself and itself only. Though I may evaluate them, I need not. I am meant to look, and then to paint myself, or act at the very least. I am sent forth.

And how is it that these paintings are not a part of the grand narrative? Because they are not linear paintings. They do not seek to excel or to compete in line from Picasso to the present, but to abide with history. They are thus of the self-annihilating tradition, the dark, ahistorical tradition, the untradition. Acheson’s paintings insist that merely looking, being, and acting eradicate tradition altogether, leaving the actor alone as others have been alone before. Henri Michaux, Lee Mullican, and the ghost of Bruce Conner preside, shaking hands with history: “If you will not impose yourself on me, I will not claim to have mastered you.”

Faith Ringgold says as much when she sticks a black face in a black Reinhardt and calls it a black light painting. Here I am and there you are and we can be together in this way without diminishing one another.

Stan Brakhage’s infinite climb.

A cabin on a hill with a skylight, and paintings in the trees.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 10-JAN 11

All Issues