New York

Robert Mangold

Fischbach Gallery

Since the mid-’60s, Robert Mangold’s art has been unusually consistent, without the degree of repetition that so much consistency generally implies. Like his paintings, each shift in his progress has been subtle and complex. The early sprayed Masonite panels of the “Area” paintings can be thought of as examples of hard Minimalist facts in which lines were the consequent of the physical limits of surfaces. Or, they can be thought of as logical sets in which the whole for each painting was given and known even when only a fragment of the whole was actually present as the work: Given the existence and nature of the whole, these parts exist. Thinking of them one way does not exclude the other. Probably the biggest jump in Mangòld’s work was the move toward an interest in perspective and illusionism, but even this move was made through the use of the “X” configuration prevalent in the “Area” paintings and thereby making the shift seem less drastic. From the “Xs” to the “Distorted Square Circles,” then, amounted essentially to a change in the configuration and a sharper focus rather than a change in the concerns of the work. The shape of the “Distorted Square Circle” canvases was slightly trapezoidal, with the circle drawn at a tangent to each side at its midpoint, creating an illusion that the painting was tilted away from the viewer. Mangold’s new paintings at Fischbach represent a further modification and, possibly, a new shift. Of the six new paintings, two are distorted ellipses within rectangles, two are distorted circles within irregular pentagons, and one painting a distorted ellipse within an irregular seven-sided shape. However, the unusual painting in the show, Distorted Circle in and out of Polygon, is much more complicated. In this painting, the shape of the right side of the canvas is that of the right side of a regular octagon, the shape of the left side is that of the left side of a circle; the circle of the canvas shape on the left side is completed as black line on the right side, tangent to the octagonal sides, and conversely, the octagonal shape is completed by black line on the left side with the vortices of the drawn angles lying on the circle of the literal shape. Thus the circular and octagonal shapes are both literal and depicted and create an illusion of one overlapping the other, but there is no telling which except to say both overlap. The old conflict between literal and depicted shape has by now been pretty thoroughly worked out. But, as the title of the painting suggests, it is possible that the literal-depicted conflict is not the point, and that Mangold is moving away from the severely reduced illusionism of the last few years and of the other paintings in this show toward such concerns as the relations of “in” and “out.”

Each of the new paintings is a different solid color, and as in his earlier paintings, Mangold seems to use color as a differentiation of one painting from the next rather than showing any real concern for what color any of the paintings are. With the irregularity of shape and the distortion of circular line, the paintings and the show as a whole is somehow out of whack; in the regularity of the “Area” paintings of the ’60s, everything seemed at rest, but here in the new work, everything is askew.

––Bruce Boice