New York

Willard Midgette

Frumkin Gallery

It is too tempting to dismiss out of hand Willard Midgette’s painted environment called “The Loft.” That it is a representational painting is a neutral fact; that its ambitiousness is so much a function of its pretentiousness indicates that it is still a student-like conception, which may in fact be its most admirable feature. Through neat interlocking canvases set at unusual angles and illusionistically painted, Midgette transformed the gallery into a dark loft walk-up: artfully abutted illusions of walls, figures in space, reflections, pictures on easels and pictures painted to give the appearance of being turned away from the viewer. To facilitate the trompe l’oeil Midgette has recourse to a number of various brush attacks, a fairly fine illustrative hand for “real” things and a more brushy discursive hand for the representations of the imagery of paintings. Unfortunately there is not enough room in the actual space to move sufficiently far away from the canvases themselves for the distinctions in hand to work well.

The painting is awkward in its execution and in its allegorical pretensions. Human relations are strained. The artist grimly turns his back upon his wife. The “paintings” depict race struggles and an unsupple sexual overture. In short, the strained allegory is that of the artist’s life, urban Bohemia seen through the memory of Courbet’s The Artist’s Studio. It is difficult enough to be a straight representational painter; to gimmick it up seems to do disservice to the cause of representationalism. In the end Midgette must be interested not in how things are painted, nor even in any hierarchical issues about what is being painted, but only in the self-defeating problem of how to hitch together ever more complex environments. Midgette ultimately must be engrossed in the floor plans of his setups, stage works. The issue then is no longer that of realism at all but of Surrealism; which is to say, that the ends of Midgette’s realism defeat his realist premises.

Robert Pincus-Witten