Critics’ Picks

62-5, 1962, oil on canvas, four parts clockwise from top left: 23 5/8 x 31 7/8“, 21 1/4 x 31 7/8”, 23 5/8 x 36 1/4“, 21 1/4 x 31 7/8”.


Martin Barré

Galerie Buchholz | Cologne
Neven-DuMont-Strasse 17
June 29–August 25

The searching quality of poetry is in Martin Barré’s paintings: They are slow, aleatory, considered, distilled. Four of Barré’s early works, from the 1960s, display a preoccupation with line as the prime index tracking the artist’s ephemeral meandering over canvas. The four-panel painting 62-5, 1962, is exemplary: Like a raw nerve, line shudders, alternately diminished and swollen. Paint’s residue evidences the solitary incursions of a brush; elsewhere, the atomized emission of spray paint is isolated in a single line crossing the top left corner of 65-A 81 x 54, 1965. Barré (1924–1993) preserves the promise of futurity in large areas of blank canvas. White and off-white activate. Restraint is an organizing principle. Visual terseness drives the isolation of lyric details: irregularity whispers sensitivity and compositional syncopation values lilting off-center-ness, off-ness. There is space to breathe. A minimal gathering of marks defines the canvas’s vacancy as the essential clearing where painting happens. 72–73D 130 x 120, 1972–73, is the transitional work of the selection on view: open and unmeasured space begins to be mapped geometrically, here by a barely there graphite underdrawing of a diagonally oriented grid. Proceeding from a more rectilinear ordering of the picture plane, five paintings from the end of Barré’s life systematically organize colored repetitions of a flat trapezoidal shape—light blue, yellow, pinkish red, and green—in a bright white field. (One thinks of the contemporaneous sensibility of Richard Tuttle or, executed only a few city blocks away, the more fluid variations by the Cologne-based painter Frances Scholz.) Throughout, Barré uses paint as an exception to white’s primacy, like the accent marking the end of his name. A punctuation to emptiness, paint’s minimal presence is a foil for absence.