David Reed’s Chilly Contrivance: Hyperstylized, Squiggly Forms

Walking west on 22nd Street the other week, I glanced in the window of the Max Protetch Gallery, noticed gallery personnel hanging paintings by David Reed and experienced something unexpected: anticipation.

I stopped and craned my neck, puzzled. Having kept Mr. Reed’s art at arm’s length in the past, I couldn’t believe I was actually curious-indeed, eager-to see the work. Could Mr. Reed have discovered a new (or interesting) facet to his hyperstylized brand of abstraction? It seemed unlikely. Here, after all, was a painter whose art I had described as the oil-on-canvas equivalent of a Big Mac, “unfailing and flavorless.”

Upon returning to Protetch a few days later, the exhibition now open to the public, my qualms about Mr. Reed’s pictures remained pretty much intact. His meticulous investigations of the art of painting still give off a whiff of formaldehyde. The roiling, silky brushstrokes-Mr. Reed’s signature mark, now widely imitated-are dramatic, denatured and cinematic. They’re emblems of touch, not the real thing, and, as such, self-conscious and mannered.

The work’s lustrous surfaces, having been layered, stenciled and sanded, nonetheless maintain a hands-off, disembodied character. Mr. Reed’s clever manipulations of oil paint dazzle the eye, the flashy forms creating lurid elisions of color, space and gesture. This is sleek, slick and brainy stuff-fodder custom-made for those who like painting only when it admits to being on its last legs.

Having said that, I was seduced by Mr. Reed’s recent efforts-though I don’t want to suggest that they evince an infusion of warm blood. The work is as chilly as ever, yet it seems different, more open and exploratory, more complicated in a way that has less to do with pictorial sensation than with pictorial structure. It’s to Mr. Reed’s credit that he’s discovering nuances within a style that had seemed fairly fixed.

The new compositions are geared to building upon, rather than exploiting, jarring juxtapositions of incident-they feel, I don’t know … fulsome. And sometimes these fast paintings are slow: In one canvas, an accumulation of yellow is augmented by thalos and purples, creating an elusive range of tones impossible to register in a single viewing. In an odd way, Mr. Reed’s canvases have become less statements about painting than merely paintings. That’s a heartening step.

Then again, maybe I’m just relieved that Mr. Reed hasn’t digitally inserted one of his paintings into an Alfred Hitchcock film or created a mock installation of the room in which the scene took place, as he’s done in the past. Maybe the absence of gimmickry, coupled with a hunger for well-crafted contemporary painting, has occasioned a softening of the critical backbone. Mr. Reed’s art is, in its immaculate contrivance, pretty off-putting. Then again, if it weren’t off-putting, the paintings somehow wouldn’t be as alluring as they are. Mr. Reed will never find his way into your heart-but he will finagle his way into your head, using the eye as his conduit.

David Reed is at the Max Protetch Gallery, 511 West 22nd Street, until Dec. 23.

Tinkering Tuttle

The Drawing Center in Soho has mounted an exhibition of drawings and sculptures by Richard Tuttle, and all you need to know about the man can be gleaned from the wall label in the entryway. There, you’ll find Mr. Tuttle’s name spelled out in wobbly pieces of black vinyl lettering affixed to the wall with ragged bits of foam padding. Rumpled and childlike, abject and offhand, the letters exemplify a sensibility infatuated with its own exquisite indifference.

Sensibility is all there is to Mr. Tuttle’s art. His lackadaisical doodles and rickety assemblages made of wood-shop leftovers, chicken wire, metal tubs and glittery styrofoam are tossed off, artfully trivial. No wonder that gossamer webs of praise are spun around the stuff-anything to obscure the fact that there’s precious little substance to the things. Instead, we’re invited to bask in the radiance of an unfettered and discursive talent. That’s why people love the shit out of Mr. Tuttle: Having freed himself from the responsibility of shaping form, he frees the viewer from the responsibility of having to look at art. It’s light work, really.

Don’t be fooled by Mr. Tuttle’s whimsical demeanor. In his own willfully diminutive way, he’s as self-aggrandizing as Richard Serra, Sean Scully or Frank Stella-which means, above all else, that Mr. Tuttle is an artist you can live without.

Richard Tuttle: It’s a Room for 3 People is at the Drawing Center, 35 Wooster Street, until Feb. 26.

Psychedelic Imaginings

If you’re familiar with the ceramic sculptures of Ken Price-those overrefined glosses on the tradition of biomorphic form-you’ll want to check out his drawings at Matthew Marks’ shoebox gallery on 21st Street. They’re not recommended, mind you, just odd: They depict erupting volcanoes, lightning, the ocean, and blobby, aquatic-like creatures in the company of buxom young women-not-so-distant cousins of Gauguin’s Tahitian nudes.

The pictures are reminiscent of underground comics, the animated film Fantastic Planet, and the fervent imaginings that line the margins of a high-school student’s notebook. Rendered in a flat-footed, psychedelic style, they pay little attention to the niceties of line or shape. (Color fares a mite better.) The drawings aren’t studies for sculptures; they tell us less about Mr. Price’s art than Mr. Price the artist. It turns out he’s a guy given to rather pedestrian daydreams. Mr. Marks felt that was reason enough to mount an exhibition-depending on your frame of mind, you might grant that he has a point.

Ken Price: Works on Paper is at the Matthew Marks Gallery, 521 West 21st Street, until Dec. 24.