Critics’ Picks

Peter Plagens, Six of One, 2017, mixed media on canvas, 84 x 78".

New York

Peter Plagens

Nancy Hoffman Gallery
520 West 27th Street
January 25 - March 10

Each one of Peter Plagens’s eleven abstract paintings and collages here can be regarded as trinities, made up of three visual elements that frame or obscure. Spaghettilike marks along the works’ perimeters jut and race about. They surround and jaggedly collide with flat inner plains of purple, gray, pink, or turquoise. At the heart of these works lie geometric units of blazing color, akin to tangram puzzles.

Plagens, also an art critic, has said that he manages to keep his writerly tendencies out of his paintings. He is, however, not entirely successful. His images feel a lot like discussions—heated, whispering, tussling. One can palpably sense the distinctive components of a conversation in his pictures, as the works slip between coherent wholes and fluid parts. The more structured, central nuclei have a stabilizing effect and function as mediators between order and bedlam, the terrestrial and the cosmic. The expanses of singular color encircling these forms act as spatial vacuums, providing a calming pause for the eye to rest. Black Flag, 2014, and Six of One, 2017, are marvelous examples.

Once an artwork is made public, the artist passes the baton of consideration and response to the audience. But when both maker and critic are manifest in the same person, we might expand our experiential apparatus. We are too well trained for seeing art. This exhibition—if we strain our ears as well as our eyes—permits us tantalizing access to a particularly intimate discourse.