New York

Sven Lukin

Pace Gallery

The paintings in Sven Lukin’s latest show at Pace Gallery fall into line behind a type of solution set up by Ellsworth Kelly three years ago, adding nothing to it besides a great deal of modish styling. In Kelly’s art of the late 1950s and early 1960s, one sees an impressive series of paintings which intend to drain off the connotations of the spatiality of the figure-on-ground relationship found in late Cubism, thereby creating images in which every segment of the canvas would be given equal forward thrust. When his palette changed from strong contrasts between very light and very dark areas to a close-valued range of extremely intense color, Kelly had to face the problem of optical flicker at the contours between the neighboring fields of color, because this effect caused, at that boundary, a blurring of the hard edge and a mutual greying of the colors, causing the edges to seem rounded or modeled. Such modeling reintroduced a furtive kind of illusionism into the painting and in part lessened the sensation of structure being arrived at purely through the impact of the colors themselves.

At this point Kelly made paintings in which nests of canvases (e.g., a yellow square canvas inside the angle of an L-shaped red canvas embraced in turn by a larger blue L) structured the works: the flicker subsided because of the minute separation in actual space between the canvases, and the modeling effect was replaced by the shadows cast as the separate fields of canvas turned over their individual stretchers. Palpable shading now became actual shading and the color was left unviolated by any pictorial diminution in its intensity. But in these solutions, although the color was now independent of the spatiality of the works, the figurative impact of the early work, its power to allude to an intense vision of natural shapes, became limited until in the “Blue Tablets” series it was totally denied. In subsequent canvases of 1963 Kelly returned to curvilinear shapes for the figures, but literally lifted them off the ground, thereby asserting in actual space what had been impossible to do in fictive space.

Lukin’s paintings, like Kelly’s 1963 works, begin from a wall plane of painted canvas and extend immense curvilinear forms (which are now palpably ersatz) out into the viewer’s space. From an absolute face-on view of the works, the extension reads only as a flat stripe running vertically or horizontally across the center of the canvas, painted the same color as the support behind it. Its presence as a three-dimensional form is not fully understood but rather, is merely sensed because the sides and belly of the shape are painted bright, contrasting colors; for example, in Trafalgar, a mostly grey work, the sides of the extension are blue, the underneath red and the canvas surface lying behind it is yellow. Both color and figure are ironically dematerialized in the works: color by registering only as a kind of after-glow or cast-shadow, and figure by the visual fusion of its sculptural presence with the ground from which it in fact emerges. But none of these pictorial qualities are really examined in Lukin’s present show; instead they are left subservient to a kind of Detroit designer mentality bent on devising slick, jet-aged shapes (one of the pieces is called Watusi) always somehow modified by an art-nouveau taste.

Rosalind Krauss