New York

Karl Gerstner

Galerie Denise René

Karl Gerstner’s art is the kind of thing that comes to my mind when I think of the demise of European painting. He showed a long, open-ended series of recent paintings under the general rubric “The Precision of Sensation.” Each is a square in which thin, receding layers step “down” “into” the painting. The steps form a kind of staircase, with one changing spectral color system in the same layers along the left and right sides meeting another equally gradated spectral sequence, of a different color, along the “landing” of a T-shape, and then descending down a single center “flight.” Largely in order to attempt to account for the pedantically close resemblance of his system to the most boring features of Albers’s squares, the artist pleads his own case in a long interview-statement that functions as the exhibition catalogue. At one point in the discourse there is even a presumptuous allusion to Matisse’s “Notes of a Painter”: “What I dream of is this. . . .”

Gerstner’s pictures are painfully tiresome seen one-by-one, let alone a whole flotilla of them. Besides, they seem to take off from a mistake, the idea that precision can be found in the simultaneously presented discrimination of competing alternatives, as, for instance, in 15 or 20 carefully graded shades of yellow, even if keyed to 15 or 20 shades of another color. There is potential for an interesting paradox in this setup, but it isn’t exploited here.

Joseph Masheck