New York

John De Andrea and Martin Hoffman

O.K. Harris Works of Art

Grooms makes puppetlike wooden objects that figuratively represent people; John De Andrea fabricates polyester resin sculpture that looks exactly like people. He takes casts of models sitting, standing, or reclining, being careful to record every minute detail, from goose bump to acne. The figures are hand brushed with oil paint and completed with all the required details, from eyelash to toenail. In one particular piece the model was a middle-aged pregnant woman sitting in a chair with her legs crossed. She was dressed in a dingy beige-colored set of undergarments. Across the room a rather exhausted-looking couple lay across a sheet placed directly on the gallery floor. The use of this extra paraphernalia—the underclothing and the sheet—is not typical of de Andrea’s earlier work and reminds me of Duane Hanson’s fully clothed models, or, even more negatively, of department-store mannequins or figures in a wax museum.

We are not being presented with the idealized nudes of Classical antiquity, but rather with figures that are truly naked, complete with all the minor imperfections of the actual human body. Eroticism never enters the situation. Even though we are initially shocked by the Realism we’re never convinced that it is real. De Andrea’s figures are still cold plastic sculpture on the gallery floor.

If de Andrea were being graded on the evolution of his thought, he’d fail—but then again so would all the photo-Realists. There’s little room for development with such an approach because there’s no place to go. This may be the reason why naturalism, the exact factual representation of nature, has had such a short-lived existence in the history of art, always losing out to a more theatrical form of the art that in turn dies out after the exhaustion of the available technology. Similarly, de Andrea would only have to equip his models until they are turned into automatons and then where? If photo-Realism in general indicates the beginnings of another round of this development, then a lot of us will be incredibly bored.

Somewhat more interesting are Martin Hoffman’s recent paintings. They follow directly from an earlier series entitled The New Jersey Meadows, scenes from the empty polluted basins surrounding industrial plants on New Jersey’s northwestern shore—common sights to motorists approaching New York from the south and west. In The Basement Series he worked, as do many photo-Realists, from color photographs. These were flash photos taken of the basement in his 97th Street apartment. The acrylic paint is thickly applied to build up a sensuous impasto that unavoidably draws attention to the paintings’ materiality. Paint splotches and drips skim across the surface, reemphasizing the two-dimensional effect, and the result hovers interestingly between flatness and the perspectival illusionism of the photograph. The paint appears to be quickly applied in a slapdash technique—one that veers to a Mannerist spontaneity. Hoffman literally attacks the canvas and applies the paint in a manner as careless as that used by the plasterer and painter of the original basement wall. We aren’t just given a mirrored illusion of the basement as it appears in the photograph, but also Hoffman’s amplified feelings about its dilapidated condition and about New York as a “hole.”

Francis Naumann