New York

Alvin Loving

William Zierler Gallery

As exemplified by Kenneth No-land’s and Barnett Newman’s art, the stripe has attained a kind of privileged presence in paintings. A stripe can be handled in such a way as to convey that it could be contracted into a line (the medium of figuration), or expanded to occupy the entire picture; some of Noland’s horizontal stripe paintings seem to be made up of stripes that compete for command of the painting in just these terms. Also, no other pictorial element so readily affirms the frontality of a picture or shores up large areas of open space in a painting that might otherwise implode; one sees this shoring up process occurring in Noland’s newest paintings (and failing in some). A stripe can also be the most elegant way of acknowledging the potential for illusionism without broaching it in that a stripe can be made to affirm the picture surface as a limit from within, as it were, without there having to be anything figural “behind” the surface. It is for that reason that I think Alvin Loving hit upon a good way of getting off the canvas and into real space and onto a real surface.

Loving is presently working primarily with strips of hand-dyed canvas which are sewn into various configurations and pinned to the gallery wall and sometimes to the ceiling, with the end of a strip occasionally draped along the floor. The strips are frequently quite long and dyed so that they change in color or from dyed to undyed along their lengths. The pictorial and sculptural aspects of the ensembles intersect and differentiate where gravity visibly effects the disposition of the canvas elements. A piece is most pictorial where its elements are fixed to the wall and most sculptural where the elements hang free. Diagonal placement of strips does challenge the flatness of the wall at points but illusionism is minimized by the fact that the order in which a piece was assembled can be read quite clearly from its structure.

Loving’s pieces, at least the ones which include canvas hung from the ceiling, lay claim to the space in front of the wall and turn it into a kind of diorama space, like a shallow picture space turned inside out. But Loving has not resolved the prime difficulty that haunts work like this (or perhaps it only haunts criticism of such work), namely, how to provide a piece with an internal logic or structure which can be seen to rule out arbitrariness, or to locate arbitrariness. I think Loving is really taking a good tack in bringing the stripe “forward” from painting and by making the structure of his new works perfectly apparent. But the ,new pieces feel like they have a kind of loose end because they don’t provide any determined sense of why they are as expansive or as complex or as simple as they happen to be. Perhaps all that’s needed is for Loving to get more comfortable with this way of working to make things that immediately feel just right.

Kenneth Baker