Maureen Gallace

MoMA PS1
22-25 Jackson Avenue at 46th Avenue
April 9–September 10

Maureen Gallace, January Flowers, 2004, oil on panel, 11 x 12".

I would like to die inside of a Maureen Gallace painting. The New England of her intimately scaled canvases and panels—full of solitary beach shacks and desolate coastlines, summer homes, Christmas cottages, flowers, and trees—is irradiated by an endless midmorning sun. Her world is beautiful, sumptuous, yet just out of reach—every barn or verdant hedge seems dangerously close to being swallowed up whole by its vanishing point. The artist’s tableaux call to mind Paul CÚzanne’s obsessive looking, the domestic surrealism of Lois Dodd, or Jane Freilicher’s rural poeticism. But the mood Gallace evokes is undeniably chilly. Her entire palette feels shot through with white. Though the months of July, August, September, and October show up in her works’ titles, the artist’s picturesque scenes are keenly touched by some kind of inescapable winter.

“Clear Day,” Gallace’s retrospective here, offers up more than twenty-five years of her brutally focused thinking and making. The show is spacious and elegantly appointed, but it’s hard not to feel anxious as you make your way through it. Gallace is a merciless editor of her own work, and some of these paintings have probably seen the business end of a scraper on countless occasions. It’s difficult to figure out the sweat equity of January Flowers, 2004, for instance, a delicate still life of three preternaturally lovely blooms (yellow roses? golden peonies?) resting in a clear glass vase. Its breezy facture is deceptive—it could’ve been made in one day or over the course of two thousand.

Gallace expertly suspends time for our luxurious perusal as well: The Woods, 2007, features Monet-tinged blossoms of the palest periwinkle hovering over a creamy field of lush foliage; Roses, Beach, 2008, depicts a wide-open sky streaked by a gossamer pink—the titular flowers gaze up in astonishment. In Summer Rainbow, Cape Cod, 2006, bands of prismatic color slice through an unusually dolorous firmament—necessary light to cut a grim heaven.

— Alex Jovanovich