New York

Alan Cote

Reese Palley Gallery

Were the large paintings of Alan Cote first shown in 1966 or 1967, I suspect that this young artist would have been received as a figure of considerable rank. As it is, those aspects of his work which so clearly derive from middle Stella, early Poons and early Avedisian, while not exactly discrediting the present paintings, nonetheless locate them in a stream of New York taste which while still lovely, has become, at least to me, a displaced center. But the pictures are tremendously likeable. The grounds are firmly and evenly colored. Dispersed across them are sharp rod-like shapes, snip-ended, which are carefully contrasted against the ground. Because of the color contrasts, the ground functions ambiguously in space by instants, although, generally speaking, abstract illusionism is not the primary aim of these works.

The free dispersal of these shapes has a peculiar history, not only related to Bill Bollinger’s piercing anodized aluminum channels of 196667 but also to Ronnie Landfield’s rod-filled compositions of 1967. Moreover, a longer tradition is alluded to which incorporates both. Dadaism and Cubism. Picabia’s La femme aux allumettes of 1920 and Arthur G. Dove’s Goin’ Fishin’ of 1925 ought to be remembered for the inception of compositions based on such a recalcitrant figure. But ultimately Cote’s works are a chromatic restatement, on a monumental scale, of the maze-like functioning of edge found in the Hermetic Cubist painting of Picasso and Braque in the period of 1910–12, an idiom transferred into the “plus and minus” compositions of Mondrian of 1913. In all of these works the edges provide a kind of visual obstacle, hurdles to pass around or to jump over. In short, like the great works I have cited, Cote’s large pictures transform image into an intense and conscious action of sight. As actions of sight, the Cotes—perhaps burdened with a long heritage not immediately guessed at—nonetheless are remarkable, most probably for the bigness of their scale and the declarative character of their color.

Robert Pincus-Witten