New York

Frank Bowling

Noah Goldowsky, Inc.

Frank Bowling’s paintings have been generally improving over the past few years, but the paintings in this exhibition are not as good as several which he exhibited at the Center for Inter-American Relations last year. Both the improvement and the lesser interest of this recent show are relative. Working out of Olitski and Noland, as Bowling is, strikes me as a fairly unadventurous endeavor. But at times Bowling’s work is more interesting than theirs, or, maybe just easier to take, since it is unaccompanied by an inflated reputation. Bowling tapes, stains, retapes and stains again. The tapes are usually near the vertical edges and almost always across the bottom. All these paintings are narrow vertical rectangles of modest size and despite my reservations about this work, Bowling does seem to achieve a more particular relationship between the structure of his images and the size of the canvas: he makes it clear that the paintings could not go on forever. The tape lines create a windowlike containment of certain stains, while the horizontal creates a vague landscape effect in the lower portions of some paintings. Bowling stains with care and facility, and some of the results are quite beautiful. Three paintings done in London this summer seem soft and cloudy, although one of them, Nile Geese, contains a strange watery space in a single vertical stripe on the right side. Four recent paintings are more interesting. These seem to amount to two examples of the same arrangement of white, egg-yolk yellow and a bright magenta red. In Whoosh and Silenus Pisces, the center is a single white pour, running toward the top and surrounded by magenta and finally yellow. These two are amazingly identical, even down to the three large dots of red on the yellow in the upper-left corner. A similar configuration is duplicated in Morning Light and The Stork’s Monotone, where the center pour is yellow with white and then red around it. Perhaps Bowling is trying to emphasize how carefully the paintings are structured and controlled, as shown by the fact that he can nearly do the same painting twice, something like the stain painters’ version of Rauschenberg’s Factum I and Factum II. It is obvious from one painting that Bowling has great control which accommodates the paint’s fluidity with no loss of structure. Bowling’s improvement within an area known mostly for decline is heartening. And while this kind of painting seems only to “improve” toward a familiar virtuosity, maybe Bowling will demonstrate otherwise.

Roberta Smith