Critics’ Picks

Odili Donald Odita, Point of Return, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 92”.

Odili Donald Odita, Point of Return, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 92”.

New York

Odili Donald Odita

Jack Shainman Gallery
513 West 20th Street
November 18–December 23, 2010

For those not familiar with Philadelphia-based painter Odili Donald Odita’s vivid revitalization of 1960s and ’70s hard-edged abstraction, this exhibition is a concise and elegant introduction. Since returning almost exclusively to painting in 1998, Odita has modulated his work between canvas, Plexiglas, and direct application of paint to gallery walls. Versions of each process are featured here, and all the resulting works are saturated with the rich acrylic tones hand-mixed for each piece.

In some ways, the show demonstrates the seemingly infinite variation of Odita’s tightly regulated visual economy. The squared Point of Return, 2010, for example, reorients the usual horizontality of his canvases, shifting the rays of color into a receding, radial abyss. The lush pastels simulate perspectival depth, even as a shard of black powerfully drives home the flatness of the work. Yet each of the works in this show, which is titled “Body and Space,” relentlessly references the gallery space and co-implicates the viewer.

Some pieces play out the exhibition’s title quite literally: A smaller gallery is painted floor to ceiling with vertical bands of color that wrap around corners, imply sculptural volume, and seem to lean against the supports like an early Richard Serra. In contrast, the polyptych Television, 2009, evokes space-age static and solid-state silicon wafers. Absent the canvas and stretcher, paint and picture surface become hypnotically coterminous—even white appears here as luminous pigment. And in both cases, figure and ground relationships are left unnervingly indeterminate, embedding us in a sort of unsolvable optical puzzle. While its striking chromatic beauty is a delight, the show is also a powerful reminder of abstraction’s enduring versatility as an analytic and visual system.