New York

Peter Passuntino

Sonraed Gallery

The relationship of still a third artist to history is perhaps even more arresting. It must be assumed that it is fully clear to Peter Passuntino that he employs compositional devices lifted from Arcimboldo, Surrealist anthropomorphism, Picasso, Ensor, and tinker-like aspects of American folk vernacular, so much so that to point out these obvious sources is to miss the point of his work entirely. Passuntino doesn’t remotely deny his swipes, nor does he wittily parody them. They are just there, junk, useful to polemical ends.

What is more interesting is that Passuntino’s thickly applied, stubbly works, painted in a bristly hand which can easily be dismissed as inept—inept in terms of the unctuous felicities we understand to be the hallmark of French painting—is now its own achievement by default. I think the success of Passuntino’s dark and hidden exhibition stems both from abused outrage and the state of American painting in 1970. Clearly, our recent strong positions—thick-field painting, pictorial statements and fundamentalism in sculpture, complex technological assumptions, evolutions from Pop Realism and Grand Manner representationalism, permutations of wordplay and conceptualization—all these positions have reached an almost mannerist extenuation in which nearly everything becomes equally high or faulted, equally profound or inane. Against this screen, Passuntino’s gaucheries seem, if anything, at least a downbeat struggle against the cruel insanities of Mittel Amerika and a despair of institutional systems. For the first time in Passuntino’s raunchy paintings, the artist’s polemics are assisted by his bald and crude hand.

Robert Pincus-Witten