New York

Ronald Bladen, Robert Hudson, Jim Dine, and Allan Hacklin

Fischbach Gallery, Frumkin Gallery, Sonnabend Gallery, and Parsons Gallery

I must admit my reaction to ROBERT HUDSON’s recent sculpture at the Allan Frumkin Gallery was one of visual confusion linked with a sense of aggressive, almost nasty tastelessness. The works in this show—with the exception of one piece, Whip—evaded orderly experience. It was as if Hudson were playing a medley of hit tunes with humor and style, but stopping each melody and going on to the next just short of your recognition of what he was playing.

No artist has to be consistent, but the variety of materials and manners in these pieces was overwhelming. Steel, polyvinyl, wood, concrete, clay . . . ; machine-like minimal, Caro, funk . . . The agglomerations of fantastic shapes in his earlier work were even more complicated, as was the color; but no one expected coherence from their antic whimsey. Now that he is simplifying his work, shapes count more. Component parts are fewer and therefore have an increasing need to relate. Unfortunately they still seem arbitrarily put together on a blind date.

The exception is a work titled Whip. Its improbability works because its elements do relate structurally and in terms of their qualities. Whip combines a steel pipe doodle made weightless visually by its shiny black polyvinyl coating, and two striped logs leaning against each other and the wall. The logs form an X near their tops, nicely balancing the squiggle of steel wrapped around them about two-thirds of the way down their lengths. The games Hudson plays with the qualities of materials in this piece are very satisfying. Although the wood and steel are quite different substances, they are almost the same girth in this piece. The stronger, heavier steel has been bent and twisted, actually held aloft, by the weaker wood. There’s an added treat: in self-reference to his more characteristic polychromy (this piece is almost austere: black and natural wood-brown), he has notched each log along its length and filled the groove with multi-colored plasticine clay. The clay’s softness imparts a weird, tactile quality to its color. Very together.

RONALD BLADEN’s new sculpture at Fischbach is at the other extreme from Hudson’s. The show consists of a single work almost filling the gallery. It is so orderly and bland initially as to register no take. There is considerably more to the piece than meets the eye at first. But whether the subtleties in perspective and illusion that slowly became evident as I studied the piece on a leisurely walk around it constituted an art experience or simply taught me some interesting visual facts is hard to answer. Even after figuring out the visual maze the piece presents and coming to see the variation in pattern created by distortion of parallel lines in perspective, the work slipped away from me, leaving only the dry residue of a perceptual exercise.

The sculpture is approximately 20 by 30 feet. It is a wood prototype painted matte white. A pattern of concentric U’s made of spaced, hollow beams sits on a platform. (The innermost U has an extra bar, making it an E.) The platform protrudes beyond the U’s in front and on the sides, but is indented beneath their ends at the rear. It tilts imperceptibly from 8 inches off the floor in front to 18 inches in the back. The piece should appear to float from the front and sides since the platform’s support is invisible, but it is so low and conveys such persuasive flatness from these two aspects that it seems a second floor in the room rather than a floating plane. Also, the work is so two-dimensionally graphic from the front, it feels like pure pattern rather than three-dimensional sculpture.

Something very different happens at the rear, where the U’s open. There the piece does appear to float both because the platform k invisible at that edge, indented under the tips of the beams, and, even more startlingly, because the work has lost its apparent flatness. From the center of the E in the back, the sculpture suddenly goes concave like a football stadium.

There are other surprising effects. From the front, the arms of the U’s do not converge toward the rear as one would expect perspective to cause them to. Instead, they appear infinitely parallel. There is also a satisfying gill-like opening and closing of the bars as you move around the work.

All these effects, the unexpected defeat of perspectival convergence in front, the augmentation of it in the rear, are created by carefully controlled variations both in the spacing of the bars and in their thickness. Their height is the only constant and even that becomes visually ambiguous because the platform tilts. Here’s what happens with the bars: the outer sides of the largest U are perpendicular to the front edge. However the inner edges of the arms of that first U are tapered slightly so they slant slightly toward the outer sides of the piece. The arms of succeeding U’s slant slightly outward also, so they are further apart in the back of the piece than at the front.

The sculpture has another peculiar effect, this time on the room itself. Even though the work fills the gallery to within a few feet of its walls, the room seems dematerialized as a boundary. The piece relates so closely and carefully to the dimensions of its container that it absorbs the walls into the piece. It’s quite a visual puzzle.

JIM DINE’s current show of combines, drawings, collages and small oils saddens the heart. It seems bitter, unresolved, and the once blithe motif completely depleted (bleeding literally now). A group of four pencil and gouache drawings of hairy, heart-cunts is the only work at Sonnabend conveying coherent intensity. They exude malignant energy and allow Dine’s accomplished draftsmanship to show to advantage because the compositions are uncluttered, simple and raw.

The main room of the gallery is filled with 60 by 40-inch drawing collages. The image of a bleeding heart sits in their centers. Sometimes it is a photo-silkscreen taped on to the surface, sometimes a thin, bloody watercolor. Most of the drawings are predominantly black and white with dashes of color brushed in or added by colored photo images. The only drawing using color extensively in the background is killed by a dead gray heart in its center.

The imagery is a disheveled mixture of cartoon figures and words, photo images and real objects of apparel crumpled against the surface of the drawings: a bandanna, a flattened hat, a glove. The surfaces have been torn in some cases.

There are about a dozen very small oils in the show, the first oils Dine has done in a while. All have cardboard hearts glued in their centers. Paint spreads over them as if they were one with the canvas surface. The hearts momentarily obscure the tentative character of these paintings, really no more than exercises in brushing and color.

ALLAN HACKLIN seems to go from one extreme to the other in search of a vessel for his color. His painting has changed radically in the last three or four years—each time showing precocious competence and invention in the presentation of a style. He has shifted from precisely drawn, parallel diagonals with shimmering sprayed squares of color inside the larger squares of the canvases, through tweed weaves and diamonds, to less arbitrarily patterned works that eventually washed out almost totally white with only the faintest inflections of color.

Now his paintings are almost black. They are grays compounded by faintly sprayed colors that give a minimal sense of congealing color mists on the surface. The new works are opaque and light-absorbing, in spite of the color hints, as were Reinhardt’s. The occasional single streak of clear color occurring either at the edge of the canvas or on the surface near the edge makes them seem even denser and more viscously resistant to the eye’s effort at penetration. Like Bladen’s work, they are experientially neutral at first, and although they yield some variation with time, it is a lean reward.