New York

Ludwig Sander

Lawrence Rubin Gallery

Ludwig Sander’s paintings at the Rubin Gallery seem to be attempts to enliven the formats he has been using for several years. Most of the new works, however, make use of the two basic structures he had employed in his earlier pictures.

The first is completely frontal. In Aroostook II, for example, the canvas is divided vertically in two with horizontal lines near the corners forming narrow shapes which balance each other. Each shape is separated by narrow black lines similar to those Mondrian used, but instead of acting as area and color as they do in Mondrian’s paintings, Sander’s lines appear more like shadows between adjoining blocks.

The second format, as in Athabascan III, is composed of a similar vertical division, but some of the horizontals are oblique, making the canvas twist and buckle along the vertical axis. This torsion destroys the absolute frontality and flatness of the surface plane although the occasional inclusion of a straight horizontal makes the reading problematical. Like the diagonals Richard Diebenkorn uses in his Ocean Park paintings, Sander’s oblique lines create a shuffling and warping in space.

While similar in structure, Sander’s earlier paintings were very subdued in color, usually light green or yellow, painted with overlaid complementaries—layers of green over orange, for example—until the colors glimmered through the grayed surface. Each rectangle, while of slightly different hue, was of almost equal value, making the paintings quiet, contained, and delicately balanced.

In the new works, Sander has attempted to use strong, clean-hued colors. But the cadmium reds, ceruleans, bright greens, and purple, surrounded by black lines, look like neo-plastic cartoons. The colors jump back and forth too jazzily for the simple formats, destroying the equilibrium formerly wrought by a fine adjustment of shapes and planes. The most successful works in the show are those which are fairly uniform in value. While the hues in these paintings, taken individually, are bright, it is not the loudness of color that is unsuccessful, but the optical vibration caused by the abutting of complementaries or values of profoundly different weights. Moreover, the contrast often occurs in a corner of the picture, knocking away the entire side. While Mondrian sometimes created some vibration through his use of primary colors, he stabilized it with the black lines which secured the flatness of the surface. In the late New York paintings, more optical jazziness was permitted because the relationship in scale of the small pieces to the whole, and to each other in size and number, allowed the works to sustain more movement.

The need for a more complicated framework to support louder colors seems to have led Sander into experiments with a couple of new formats, although they do not differ radically from his earlier ones. The central two panels of Aroostook IV, for example, are very similar to the frontal format of other paintings in the show. The colors are well-balanced and rich but the extensions on each side seem like the unfolding of a screen, more like parentheses to a proposition than a vital part of the work. Instead of operating as relationships within the painting, they almost slide out of. it. The other new picture, Pawnee XV, is not divided definitively enough to support the vibrant colors. In these two works, there can be seen the remains of a sensibility that Sander is unwilling to forfeit. He has been a tough-minded painter who has followed a personal track for many years. While his desire for more spirited and riskier paintings is to be commended, he must first bypass the taste which contradicts the premises of his new works.

Lizzie Borden