A good portion of the paintings in Tine Lundsfryd’s first one-person exhibition at Lori Bookstein Fine Art have been sold. This is, I think, a heartening sign. Not that the extent to which an artist sells work is a gauge of its merit: If we’re to believe the red dots surfeiting the price lists regularly seen on the front desk at Mary Boone Gallery, there’s no shortage of, er, collectors who are soon parted from their money.
What distinguishes Ms. Lundsfryd’s sales is that they seem to indicate an audience hungry for serious abstract painting, an audience willing to put its money where its eye is. Ms. Lundsfryd’s geometric paintings are slow-burning, quietly ambitious and self-effacing. They are the antithesis of the chilly quick-fix sensationalism dominating the scene. The pleasures—and challenges—that Ms. Lundsfryd proffers aren’t commensurate with a culture infatuated with technology, celebrity and mass media.
Seen in that light, you might be tempted to peg her as an anomaly or a throwback. The truth is, she has bigger fish to fry. Viewing art as a continuum that spans the centuries, she partakes of influences as diverse as Zurbarán, John Cage, the quilters of Gee’s Bend and, I would argue, the painters decorating the caves at Altamira. For what thrives in Ms. Lundsfryd’s art is the notion—and, in fact, the reality—that marks on a flat surface can take on a magical independence.
Working off a grid delineated in pencil, she creates an all-over faceting, a network of color and space. Rectangles, diamonds and triangles coalesce into crystalline fields that recall game boards, the cosmos and, skittering through the slow accumulation of pattern, the landscape. Subtle shifts in rhythm, value, scale and touch make for compositions that pulse, flow, evolve and shimmer. There’s something meditative about the gentle and tenacious way that Ms. Lundsfryd applies oil to canvas—something skeptical, too. That the pictures embody contradictory impulses without straining attests to Ms. Lundsfryd’s ability to endow limited form with manifold meaning.
“It’s hard to believe that somebody has the nerve to use this language again” is how a flabbergasted writer for Vogue recently described Ms. Lundsfryd’s approach to “true abstraction.” Nerve has nothing to do with it—conviction does. That it is conjoined with a tough and tensile painterly gift makes Ms. Lundsfryd’s debut a salutary alternative to the distractions that pass for art in our time.
Tine Lundsfryd; Recent Paintings: 1998-2004 is at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, 37 West 57th Street, until Oct. 30.
Rackstraw Downes, whose recent paintings are the subject of the inaugural exhibition at the Betty Cuningham Gallery, is just about everything we expect from an artist. He has a coherent worldview, an incisive, questioning eye, a nuanced command of materials and clarity of purpose.
Looking at his depictions of duct work on Staten Island, the Texas desert, a baseball field in Red Hook and “George W. Bush, Charles Schumer, Hillary Rodham Clinton and George Pataki depart[ing] Ellis Island in a formation of choppers,” you know you’re watching a painter at the top of his game. Mr. Downes’ commitment to looking—really looking—is rare; he leaves no stone (or viaduct or substation or cloud) unturned. The specificity of any one picture will beggar the eye. The canvases—with their looping elisions of space, dogged adherence to observed phenomena and dry, even light—are among the most accomplished being produced today.
All the same, Mr. Downes is a frustratingly narrow artist. As true as he is to portraying the particulars of a given place, he remains impervious to the fluctuations of painterly experience. It doesn’t matter where Mr. Downes sets his easel; any old vista will do. What his brush alights upon becomes a subject of interrogation, not an event to be explored. Painting is, for Mr. Downes, a form of subjugation, the triumph of vision over motif. He’s relentlessly true to his style. That’s why one Downes painting is as riveting as the next: Its creator is incapable of admitting to variations in temper or response. Mr. Downes is a hell of a painter and one of a kind—would that his art were more flexible, open and various.
Rackstraw Downes is at the Betty Cuningham Gallery, 541 West 25th Street, until Oct. 30.
Beyond Op Art
History stinks—or I so imagine the British painter Bridget Riley thinking when looking back upon the abrupt curve of her career. Artists are remembered, at least in the short term, for the initial claim they make on our attention. Ms. Riley can’t walk out the door without someone pointing to her Op Art paintings, those eye-straining exercises in spatial warping and woofing. They made her a star, guaranteeing Ms. Riley a place in the history books.
Seen at the Dia Foundation a few years back, the Op pictures looked quaint. Their unshakable formalist foundations remain subservient to a time and a place: 1960’s London. Carnaby Street, go-go boots, Twiggy and The Who Sell Out —the associations Ms. Riley’s abstractions brought forth were more Austin Powers than Henri Matisse, more Pop Art than Paul Cézanne.
Ms. Riley’s recent canvases, on display at the 57th Street location of PaceWildenstein, were all created during the last four years, effectively making them 21st-century paintings. They actively court precedent: One divines in their flame-like ribbons of color and interlocking compositions the cutouts of Matisse, the optical flicker of George Seurat’s pointillism and the stern probity of Cézanne. Hints of Op remain primarily, but not blatantly, in Ms. Riley’s use of vivid, complementary colors. Otherwise, the palette is regulated and strong—blue and green are its mainstays, though an orange-pink, a tone both chalky and heated, is its ultimate arbiter.
Predicated upon patterns interrupted by unheralded moments of deviation (an upswinging rhythm supplies the uniformity of composition here), the paintings plug into the canon of Western art for their vitality and, I predict, their staying power. History outlives those who write its pages, just as Painting with Two Verticals (2004) will eventually outshine the visual pyrotechnics of Op Art. This is where to catch up on Bridget Riley the painter; Ms. Riley the phenomenon you can live without.
Bridget Riley: Recent Paintings is at Pace Wildenstein, 32 East 57th Street, until Oct. 23.
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