Critics’ Picks

Steve Wolfe, Untitled (Anna Karenina), 1985–87, oil, enamel, ink transfer, modeling paste, canvas, wood, 7 1/2 x 5 x 2".

New York

Steve Wolfe

Luhring Augustine | Chelsea
531 West 24th Street
February 4 - March 11

Love is rarely tender, especially with cherished objects. Sometimes they become so much a part of who we are that they, too, accumulate the scars, scrapes, and burns of affection. Steve Wolfe’s current posthumous exhibition offers up impeccable re-creations of books, book covers, and records from the artist’s personal library, made to look as worn by time and use as the originals. Every tear and scuff is fabricated through oil paint, ink, and graphite; every misaligned spine, intentional.

Wolfe’s remaking of Voltaire’s satire, in softcover, Untitled (Candide), 1988–89, surprises by its vibrancy. Its colors and textures are exquisitely vivid—more real than real life. Other books are “stained” by coffee cup rings, “faded” by the sun. The rough, painterly cover of Untitled (Anna Karenina), 1985–87, belies the coated sheen of the standard Penguin Classic. But its warped, frayed form keenly delivers the familiar story of a tome that has ventured once too often into the crushing depths of an overloaded backpack. Elsewhere, the artist’s books exist solely as covers, collaged onto a single plane (Untitled [Study for Mumm/Jose Cuervo Cartons], 1994). They flawlessly capture the brittle textures and acid-browned colors of the crumbling texts you’d fish from the dollar crate at the Strand.

Wolfe has taken the inspirational energies provided by his library and harnessed them into hours and hours of scrupulous labor. His imitations become utterly sacred through this extraordinary care. These are saintly bodies—conceived by mysterious processes and coated in precious pigments—that carry the kind of divinity one can only find in books.