Critics’ Picks

View of “Bernard Piffaretti: Report,” 2013.

Los Angeles

Bernard Piffaretti

Cherry and Martin
2712 S. La Cienega Boulevard
January 12–February 16

Spot the difference. A colored line cuts down the middle of the thirty works in Bernard Piffaretti’s latest exhibition; in each the left side (mostly) mirrors the right. A split-image game fallen out of Sunday’s funnies and kids’ magazines comes alive in these bifurcated paintings. Halving the painting is a long-running gag of the artist’s—call it his signature. Abstraction pars the course here, but it’s easy to find stories in their lines and streaks. The artist when interviewed, however, propounds them purely as formal abstractions. A pink searchlight cuts through black-and-white striped clouds into a much stripier landscape, interchanging bright blue and reds cut with white and mustard, lengthwise lines shimmering with color. In another, two white canvases hang side by side with daubs of varicolored paint like messy fingers smearing a white wall.

Piffaretti is dependably serious in his endeavor, but the levity and dance of the colors are a bit too lively to be unnecessarily self-serious. Crisscrossing lines invariably hum Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1943, but crookedly and ever always doubled over. The dualisms build into each work a familiarity, but they also fuck it up enough to feel the differences between the two sides, as they are never exact duplicates; the human hand and eye’s imprecision negate the cool clarity and easy flatness of some machine’s instant reprographics. These are not about speed; they are about finding a form that really moves, perhaps even frolics.

The playful colors and the rebus of the split invests Piffaretti’s relatively simple paintings with a joy and humor rarely found in the land of abstraction. Perhaps it is as the high-minded high priest of abstraction Ad Reinhardt once uttered: “Art is too serious to be taken seriously.”