Exploiting Irresolution, Sussman Paints Coherent Abstractions

All sorts of clichés popped into my head while looking at the abstract paintings of Robert Sussman, on display at the CUE Art Foundation. Here’s a sampling: “Birds of a feather … “; “Great minds think alike”; “It takes one to know one”-you get the drift. The bromides were prompted by the knowledge that Thomas Nozkowski curated the show. Anyone familiar with Mr. Nozkowski’s paintings will recognize that he has a soul brother in Mr. Sussman. They’ve got more than a little in common: Looking to Abstract Expressionism for inspiration, Mr. Nozkowski and Mr. Sussman both favor heraldic images, layered surfaces and a vocabulary of form that is inclusive, droll and skewed. Self-effacement is another quality they share-both men’s pictures state their case with minimal fuss.

A significant difference is how each painter approaches abstraction. For Mr. Sussman, it is less about shaping an alternate reality than a play of style and surface. A recurring set of elements-disassociated painterly marks, fractured architectural scaffolding, and Donald Duck as imagined by Jean-Michel Basquiat-are hastily set down. Juxtaposing them in a deceivingly artless manner, Mr. Sussman exploits irresolution to idiosyncratic effect. High-keyed colors, iconic scrawls and rickety geometry mosey along, barely acknowledging each other. The mystery is how these terse hodgepodges cohere-seemingly through happenstance, undoubtedly through consummate skill. Touch counts for something: Mr. Sussman’s brush is forthright, clunky, at times abrasive and always good-humored. His paintings won’t be to everyone’s taste. But anyone with a taste for painting will find them diverting, confounding and (when Mr. Sussman hits the mark) a hoot.

Robert Sussman is at the CUE Art Foundation, 511 West 25th Street, until May 29.

Reassigned Value

The wall constructions of Robert Yoder, on display at the Charles Cowles Gallery, are exceedingly clever. The gallery touts them as an “examination of decontextualized materials.” Put in less highfalutin terms: Mr. Yoder likes to recycle stuff. His medium is discarded road signs. (He’s also fond of shopping bags and Legos.) He cuts the materials into rectangular pieces and reconfigures them as if he were laying a parquet floor or putting together a puzzle. The “message” of each sign, having been scrambled, is transformed into an eye-popping abstraction reminiscent of circuitry, hieroglyphs, Paul Klee and Ellsworth Kelly. A small piece, Polar (2003), composed of two shades of yellow blocks and a smattering of chunky black shapes, is the best of the bunch, largely because it avoids the glib efficiency typical of the work. Legos are the giveaway: An artist as one-dimensional as Mr. Yoder shouldn’t risk flirting with cuteness. One misstep and he could end up hawking his wares at the street fair down the block.

Robert Yoder: Landmark is at the Charles Cowles Gallery, 537 West 24th Street, until May 22.

Spinning a Color Wheel

After having visited Lennon, Weinberg Inc., which is exhibiting the abstract paintings of Harriet Korman, I went home and rifled through my file of Observer clippings. Just as I remember: I really liked Ms. Korman’s 2001 show at the same venue. Though finding the individual abstractions “indistinct,” I lauded the group as “something special.” As evidenced by her most recent efforts, Ms. Korman’s arrival continues apace. The color-saturated patchworks of wobbly geometry and biomorphic shape follow in the footsteps of the earlier work-so much, in fact, that I’m tempted to recycle my review of three years ago. Ms. Korman’s work hasn’t changed all that much; neither has my enthusiasm.

Is Ms. Korman spinning her wheels? If so, she’s doing it with a happy sense of purpose. Her bumptious array of triangles, ellipses and squares interpenetrate, overlap, butt heads and elbow their way into existence. The compositions bring to mind any number of precedents-Delaunay, Herbin and Kandinsky, to name just three-and suggest, almost sweetly, that we’ve hardly begun to understand Modernism. Scooting from canvas to canvas, Ms. Korman discovers facets of space, color and interval that are new and exciting. Actually, she could do a little less scooting: The paintings-consistent in quality, but unvarying in temperament-feel like they came off an assembly line; individual focus is called for. I wish, too, that Ms. Korman paid more attention to edges-the craftsmanship wobbles here and there. Then again, the large diptych in the middle gallery, a gentle collision of yellow, green and a sonorous field of red, claims a permanent place in the memory. Maybe Ms. Korman isn’t spinning her wheels after all.

Harriet Korman: Recent Paintings and Drawings is at Lennon, Weinberg Inc., 560 Broadway, until May 28. Exploiting Irresolution, Sussman Paints Coherent Abstractions