New York

Peter Plagens

Reese Palley Gallery

Peter Plagens, a West Coast-based contributing editor of Artforum, knows a lot, especially that he is going to be taken to task for his large craypas pastel and acrylic paintings. Not only because they border dangerously on being beautiful for beauty’s sake, but also because he cannot fail to be aware that this kind of asseverated painterliness is at this moment in contemporary art an almost untenable position. Plagens is, in part, a victim of the very artistic consciousness of which he has been a vital reformer.

Plagens’ color is apt to be highly grayed, thinned out in broad, chalky fields. In a Whistlerian way he arduously paints around lost and found spots, snipped shapes and edges of pastel which present themselves in sudden neonlike thrusts of color and stain. The tentativeness of the approach is predicated on the fact that the painter makes manifest his entire mistrust of his own facility. There is not a brushstroke, a line, a gesture to which Plagens cannot append a history. His problem is not so much one of painting itself, as he is clearly a painter born, but one of discouraging his very facility. All surfaces are chastised, all configurations in search of the eccentric, all edges established with a kind of clumsiness which is its own kind of estheticism. In short, Plagens paints like a right-handed man who perversely chooses to be a southpaw. It is not the paintings which are moving (they move me in a way that Kenzo Okada’s do), but the fact that they evidence so much awareness of the tight spot that he—and not Plagens alone, but all naturally fluent painters—has been forced into by contemporary art history: expressive painting into sheer angst.

Robert Pincus-Witten