Critics’ Picks

Green Plant, 2004.

Green Plant, 2004.

New York

Ellen Altfest

134 Tenth Avenue
December 8, 2005–January 21, 2006

Since her debut show at Bellwether in 2002, Ellen Altfest has become decidedly more precise and yet, at the same time, considerably less so. Her earliest canvases, which took in broad, sometimes expressive, often ungainly landscapes, gave way to academic visual descriptions of lichen-covered rocks and tree trunks. But with her latest works, Altfest seems to have stopped making studies and begun making paintings. The ten canvases in this show frame close-up views of cacti and succulent plants, as well as the odd gourd and log, from subtly different perspectives, evincing both Altfest's new appreciation of the canvas edge and her desire to play more intensely with varying pictorial depths. Her sharpening of realistic detail, in both foreground and background, combined with an at-times mind-bending use of colors and patterns, opens her paintings into three dimensions—dizzying hologram effects (akin to those produced by Op art) that, if the eye is to be trusted, seem to erase distinguishing minutiae. Among the best examples are Gourd, 2004, the vegetable’s chipped colors merging with those of its paint-spattered wood support, and Green Plant, 2004, whose compelling verdancy thrillingly frustrates prolonged concentration.