New York

Lowell Nesbitt

Howard Wise Gallery

At the Howard Wise Gallery, Lowell Nesbitt shows tinted grey paintings of real and imaginary interiors, uninhabited except for objects of indeterminate or unrelated scale.

The point of the pictures, which are painted with a deadpan attention to form that obliterates most textural variety, is that interior spaces, when they are unexpectedly empty or occupied by an unlikely item, have the power to act as stage settings for bizarre activities conjured up by the fantasy of the viewer. It is “But I’m sure I heard a seal bark!” all over again. In Mr. Nesbitt’s works, an object or two in his settings, a bicycle, chair, ladder, table, or whatever, provide poignant reinforcements and a slight direction to these imaginings. For this hackneyed surreal device to work well, it is essential that the spaces of the interiors/settings be very convincingly articulated; if they are not, the fantasy remains as indeterminate as the area provided for it.

Mr. Nesbitt’s spaces are convincing in their Rosenquistian spare harshness, but his compositions are unexceptional. It is risky to leave the imaginative faculties of his audience quite so undirected as he does, without providing a structural interest in the works past that of the objects and places represented. This he neglects to do.

The large horizontal Double Staircase does have two juxtaposed similar images, again a la Rosenquist, but the additional compositional interest gained is not very different from, and certainly not up to, the quality of its prototypes.

Because of the all-over greyness, the things in Nesbitt’s paintings seem both like expanded photos, and also to be made out of the same material, but what that material is, remains unclear. And so the pictures lack that utter relentless consistency which appears in Magritte’s “stone” pictures, where everything is made of one material (grey paint) and seems to be made of one material (grey stone); there the bizarrerie of the images is truly haunting. In Nesbitt’s work, things just seem bled of color, and fatally compromise the spooky drama he aims for. We know that it’s a gimmick, and if we fall for it at all, its feebleness is rapidly irritating.

Dennis Adrian