The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2013

All Issues
MAY 2013 Issue


On View
Hirschl & Adler Modern
February 21 – April 6, 2013
New York

John Moore’s new paintings depict urban, in some cases disused, manufacturing sites in parts of Philadelphia where you’d least look for visual pleasures. Against all odds he transforms industrial settings, or what remains once industry has moved away, into paradigms of a formal, Apollonian order. Places where productivity is now largely limited to his own painting process, with neglected brick walls, aging metal structures, and surfaces from which layers of paint have long since started peeling provide much of Moore’s subject matter. The paintings, all oil on canvas from the last couple of years, are remarkable for their visual acuity, masterful technique, and, considering his focus on urban detritus, their highly refined aestheticism. The artist is an elegant host in these scruffy precincts.

John Moore, "Turnstile," 2012. Oil on canvas, 70 x 68". Photo: Will Brown. Courtesy of Hirschl & Adler Modern.

A pronounced formality of two sorts characterizes Moore’s art. One is an unfailingly clear organization of space and surface design (qualities commonly and simplistically dubbed “formalist,” as though an ideology were responsible). In the immediate foreground he establishes architectural grids, often formed by translucent glass brick, window mullions, gates, or the “portals” that provide the exhibition’s apt title. These firm, foursquare structures establish a visual context, acting as foils to diverse optical surprises and momentarily disorienting pleasures. Each square section of the glass brick walls liquefies light, making for small, luminous abstractions or transformed descriptions of what is beyond them. Exploring the glass bricks one by one you find worlds within worlds, reconfigured bits of trees, buildings, whatever else is beyond or, depending on the particular brick, pure sensations of light. An overall symmetry and classically planar spatial recession stabilize and give stateliness to Moore’s compositions while also providing ballast for so many sorties into realities where optical anomaly and fantasy intersect.

“Opacity” (2011) contrasts the effects of poured glass brick, slightly textured flat glass, and clear glass, an arrangement as clearly on the picture’s surface as a Johns flag. In “Doorway”(also 2011), which shows a scrungy succession of rooms,patches of incongruously decorative color remain on interior surfaces while an equivalent bit of cerulean sky shows through from the far end of the building.
The upper half of “Turnstile” (2012) shows a late afternoon sky, rising from sunset hues of peach to translucent cyan, seen through the aged, distressed structure in the foreground that provides the painting’s title. Below the sky, against a darkening building and trees, are metal bars that still hold at least some of their yellow paint. In the middle distance a creek crosses the picture, interrupting the dark with its reflection of the sky. The interplay of decrepit and pristine, near and far, light and dark, amid two distinct orders of spatial structure could be an instant of a dream. The turnstile’s abandoned structure holds us in place before the romantic allure of the late afternoon.

The corollary formality of Moore’s pictorial organization is social, in his address to the viewer, which is, you feel, respectful and confident of reciprocal attentiveness. It’s as though, in a generous spirit of sharing with the viewer, he is pointing out scenes of a private, personally nurtured preserve. No bravura flourishes interfere with his considered, workmanlike account of his chosen sites or the evidence of their poignant devolution.

Poems by Vincent Katz accompanying five of the paintings graced the exhibition and the catalog. With the paintings as points of departure, these prose poems combine careful observation of the work with eloquent, independent subjective response.

730 5th Ave, 4th Fl. // NY, NY


Robert Berlind

ROBERT BERLIND is a painter and writer who lives in New York and upstate in Sullivan County. He has received the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in Painting, the B. Altman Award in Painting at the National Academy, as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and an Artwriters’ Grant from Creative Capital and the Warhol Foundation.

He writes regularly for the Brooklyn Rail and has written for Art in America since the late ’70s as well as writing many catalog essays for various museums. He is a Professor Emeritus of the School of Art+Design, Purchase College, SUNY.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2013

All Issues