On ViewLisson Gallery
May 4 – June 11, 2022
In this, Bernard Piffaretti’s fourth Lisson Gallery exhibition and the second in New York, the recursive nature of his project is present in more ways than one. Again, a prominent feature of each painting is an initial, central, vertical division of the canvas by a painted line, a feature of Piffaretti’s paintings for more than forty years. Each painting is painted on one side of this line at a time and completed before moving on to the other half, which in effect becomes a copy, version, reproduction of the other—close enough that it is clearly an iteration, but different enough to subvert the idea that it is intended to be an exact replication. Difference can come in many guises, however; by presenting a nearly exact iteration, difference becomes acute and provokes questions. Each panel here features its double, excepting Untitled (2021), a painting with a blank left half that will forever await the anticipated repetition of an already completed other half. Our first question might be, quite naturally, which of the two sides was painted first? This question—is the first an original and the other a copy—not only becomes obsolete, as we simply cannot know, but we also have to ask what is this third thing—the two sides plus their relation to each other? I think the critique of originality, compelling and confounding, is the idea that the origin is irrelevant: it is just one moment in relation to others. The paintings also invoke for me the French philosopher Jean Luc-Nancy’s thoughts on the relationship that occurs when adding one plus one, in other words, when extending the idea of singularity by just one; here, this observation is quite obviously evoked by each individual panting. The exhibition also includes earlier paintings made as long ago as 1995. Because of this, we can look back historically as well as forward to recent paintings, furthering the idea of return or recursion.
Each painting is, apart from the doubling described, composed in an open variety of ways, inclusive of loose geometry and gestural mark, paint drips and transparent layers or opaque blocks. In Untitled (2021), the vertical dividing line is cobalt blue; on either side the composition comprises jagged blue-green shapes made with repeated horizontal brush marks applied matter-of-factly. The ground of the painting is white and the green varies in its opacity, the relatively thin paint not providing an even coat. Numerous drips—pale blue, bright red, black—do not derive from the green shapes, but from underpainting, the delineation of other shapes (polka dots) later almost obliterated in the course of the composition’s evolution. There is an ease and playfulness in this process that mirrors the character of Piffaretti’s painting as a whole: light, colorful, unstressed. The symmetry of the paintings is oblique, one and then its other, side by side and not Rorschach-like extending out from the center like a fold. Rather, they are like two frames of an analogue film, two moments from the flux of time—projection or recall, backwards or forwards. Almost all of Piffaretti’s paintings are what can be described as abstract, but on occasion he does use overtly figural elements or entirely figurative compositions. In Untitled (2005), alternating red and blue diagonal stripes, with clean hard edges, cross the canvas and leave empty triangular sections. Three vertical bars positioned to the lower left of the painting—white, pale yellow, and pink—abut each other and overlap the diagonal plane. The pale, outside left edge of the painting visually contrasts with the internal edge of the vertical black dividing line that separates the painting’s two panels.
The references that Piffaretti makes formally to other artists’ works—in this exhibition to particular works by Morris Louis or Jasper Johns, only emphasize further that his subject is clear: he is, as he has said, “painting painting.” In combining Duchamp’s conceptual play with Matisse’s inventiveness and sensory pleasure, Piffaretti is one of a number of French artists who have negotiated a way forward without discarding the practice of painting and its imprint of applied painterly accident and color. Another artist seminal to this moment is Simon Hantaï, who found a very different solution for how to continue painting in his “pliage” works. Pifferetti continues to propel us forward through the ongoing, heterodox yet repetitive, continuation of his ongoing project, adding more paintings, each time questioning our relation to duration and its perpetual incompletion.