New York

Ralph Humphreys

Emmerich Gallery

For all their straightforward beauty, Olitski’s paintings look tough and remote next to the ones Ralph Humphrey showed at Emmerich. After seeing the auroral drift of light through Olitski’s paintings, Humphrey’s day-glo wavelets are hard to take seriously. After a series of paintings which were quite spare and tense in their evocation of light, Humphrey has in the past year or so returned to using larger undulating strips of color and to shaping his canvases into tondos, kidneys and such. In the Emmerich show, a number of the canvases have also been sprayed lightly at the edges giving the sense that light is emanating from the center of the surface and also modeling the surface slightly, apparently to reinforce the softening or elimination of stretcher corners. But all this striving after effect remains just that, and the means are as obvious as if they were labeled. The weightless wisps of color have come to look very gestural, very mannered, almost as if Lichtenstein’s “Brushstroke” had been taken literally. This look really undermines the abstraction of Humphrey’s paintings, which would be about the only possible source of strength left to them. Their saccharine colors ultimately leave them looking Pop-opalescent. The show, so superficially cheery at first, was really rather depressing. The variety of vital work done outside painting in recent years has really left no place for weak abstraction. Yet Humphrey’s paintings seem to be taking advantage of abstraction to arrive at their flaccidity.

Kenneth Baker