The Vision Thing Triumphs, Honoring Logic, Courting Chaos

It’s no secret that artistic imperatives often triumph over practical concerns about conservation. Countless valuable works discolor, crackle and disintegrate because the artist disregards the laws of chemistry; and often the culprit, rather than carelessness, is a compelling aesthetic impulse. Tine Lundsfryd’s Untitled (1999-2000), an abstract painting on view in an exhibition she shares with Kazimira Rachfal at the Diamantina Gallery, isn’t in terrible shape, but the perimeter is riddled with cracks. One wouldn’t make an issue of it if Untitled weren’t an outstanding picture-and barely four years old.

Standing spellbound in front of Ms. Lundsfryd’s painting, one quickly realizes why it is that she placed archival issues quietly off to one side of the easel: She was the willing victim of an aesthetic and spiritual engagement that couldn’t be denied. Untitled builds on a diagrammatic, mandala-like structure, the penciled-in architecture readily, even nakedly, apparent. A tracery of finely wrought, though informally limned, triangles-predominantly black and red, with glimmers of blue, orange and yellow-radiates from the center of the composition, coalescing, spreading and stopping just short of the edge of the canvas. The manner in which these units accumulate is methodical, but also free-flowing and organic. The final image is as porous as a cloud and as inevitable as a crystal. Untitled doesn’t spurn the systematic; the canvas owes its considerable power to how it honors logic even as it courts chaos. This solid-as-a-rock painting thrills the eye because it constantly threatens to fall to pieces.

Ms. Lundsfryd’s other canvases can’t match the high-wire tension that Untitled so precariously generates. The pleasures they afford are true and serious, but often the artist lets her painterly energies disperse too readily, and the result is agreeable, rather than irresistible, works of art. The same could be said of Kazimira Rachfal’s paintings, shifting rectangles that hark back to the grand emotions (if not the grand scale) of Mark Rothko. Keyed to a rich and various palette of black, Ms. Rachfal’s pictures are unpredictable in their spatial relationships, scruffy in their approach and not always as firm as they want to be. She gets it right with Stagione di Luna (1999)-its milky veils of paint add up to a gravitas that’s lush and beckoning.

Tine Lundsfryd and Kazimira Rachfal is at the Diamantina Gallery, 47 Thames Street in Brooklyn, until April 22; call the gallery for hours (718-821-3774).

Now You See It

The persistent and, I would argue, pernicious strain of literalism endemic to so much contemporary art is present and accounted for in the paintings of Ashley Prine, on display at the Clementine Gallery. Ms. Prine’s glossy and gossamer abstractions have a lot going for them: a harsh, sweet, personal palette; undulating forms blurred by electric halos of transparent paint; and an overall tonality which brings forth a mood that’s palpable and yet elusive.

What hobbles Ms. Prine’s abstractions is that they aren’t really abstractions; spend half a minute with the pictures and you see that flowers, trees, roots, buds and animals served as inspiration. These undigested back-to-nature signifiers divulge a sensibility that doesn’t trust the fundamentals of painting-color, shape, surface, rhythm et al.-to do the work. In other words, Arthur Dove she ain’t. Instead, Ms. Prine relies on “find the squirrel” gimmickry to put her point across. Not all of the time: Her most beautiful painting, Bird Center (2002), manages to avoid the obvious. Nonetheless, I hesitate to revisit it; I worry that the aviary might make itself disastrously apparent.

Ashley Prine is at the Clementine Gallery, 526 West 26th Street, until April 26.

Boxed In

At some point in time, and it looks like it’s coming soon, Elizabeth Murray will realize that she’s a sculptor. Forsomeonewho’sknownasa painter-indeed, as one of our pre-eminent painters-this might not be welcome news. I say the news can’t come soon enough. As it stands, it’s hard to know what to call the objects on display at Ms. Murray’s show at the Chelsea branch of PaceWildenstein. Populatedbyhersignaturedistended shapes-a cartoonish cornucopia of arms, orifices, boots, boobs and skulls-the pieces attempt to bridge the gap between painting and sculpture, only to confirm that some bridges are better burned than traversed. Ms. Murray’s forms are no longer two-dimensional: They’ve fragmented and, as independent units, achieve a measure of physical autonomy.

But they still cling-rather desperately-to the conventions of painting. Ms. Murray’s forms are stifled, in fact, by their inability to break out of the proverbial box, the rectangular surface. As someone who believes that the life of a painting depends in large part on the integrity-that is to say, the stability and neutrality-of its format, I’ve found Ms. Murray’s previous experiments with irregularly shaped canvases half-baked. The new pieces are better than that; they admit to their constraints and begin to approximate, if not outright sculpture, at least a goofy, user-friendly kind of interior decoration. The best thing here, the rambunctious Bop (2002-3), almost delivers what its title promises: a dance across the wall. Ms. Murray is too willful an artist to go for broke, and her gift for color and shape has been oversold. Nonetheless, these recent pieces are her strongest to date.

Elizabeth Murray: Paintings 1999-2003 is at PaceWildenstein, 534 West 25th Street, until April 19.