New York

Jon Borofsky

Paula Cooper Gallery | 529 West 21st Street

Jon Borofsky’s enterprise is the same but the inverse of Opalka’s. They both count, but for Borofsky it’s not simple continuation, but a containing device for an effusion of drawings, paintings, and small sculptures he makes to explicate his dreams. He marks each with the number he’s reached in counting. This, he told me, situates the work in his time, and also serves as a signature. The stuff in the show seems unselected, not weeded out, almost as if the transit from studio to gallery was direct. It’s like a year in the life of Borofsky. The gallery is cluttered from floor to ceiling with his produce.

The paintings, Borofsky said, began as marginalia in the sheets of counting which, stacked in a four-foot pile, form the locus of the show. “So all becomes one,” he said, “even if they appear to be very different.” Okay, but there’s a sense in which the personal, often mystical, subject matter and childishly inept representational style are part of a revealing act—like, look how crazy I am! Just try and find me out. I talked with a Dutch art therapist about the show. She was at first reluctant to deal with the art as material for analysis, but finally said that, as material, it was unspontaneous and repressed. “He is limiting himself to depicting what he saw in his dreams, but he ignores variety and makes no distinctions between the various individuals. The people with masklike faces or no faces at all are indicative of repressed feelings.” There’s not enough visual detail in the works, she said, for an art therapist to construct an analysis of Boroisky’s personality. “In the big paintings about the dreams it is much clearer what happens to him by reading the narratives than by looking at the pictures. He is simply documenting his dreams rather than working them through emotionally.” Were Borofsky her patient, she would ask him to do work in materials which don’t require as much control, perhaps fingerpaint, pastels, or very soft clay. It would be important for him, she said, “to work without a situation where he can plan.”

Borofsky, when I told him this, was irked.

I do a lot of self-analysis that doesn’t come out in the paintings. The nature of the show was not repressive at all, but an opening up of feelings. And even if it was kind of naive and a little tight, it’s like when you first start a conversation with somebody you’re a little tight. It’s difficult to put your neurosis out for anybody, let alone yourself. The emphasis for the last decade has been on this very haughty, cool, tough art. I’m trying to open up, just put it out there and not be so cool. I’d hate to be scolded for being repressed.

Actually, this is all beside the point,which may be why isn’t Borofsky a Surrealist? Well, there’s a lot of reasons. He’s not programmatic. He doesn’t use his dreams to seek universal symbols which can become emblems in a campaign to liberate humankind from rationality. He doesn’t telegraph his unconscious with a process like frottage, scribble technique, or even Arp’s method of repeating the same figure until his hand made variations. Rather Borofsky is involved with an idea of the artist’s enterprise. This, like Opalka, On Kawara, Darboven, and even Twombly, is partly just filling up time in a social role called “artist.” But it’s also evolving a personal heraldry. Borofsky repeats subjects he likes, and his estimation of the importance of a dream determines the scale of many of his canvases. He works particular images—like one of himself climbing a mountain to reach a Buddha-like figure on top—through drawings, paintings, and sculptures, until it forms a schematized personal emblem. It’s about getting a grip on himself. Still, this massive display installation amounts to a kind of personal propaganda. Borofsky is concerned with childhood experiences, their effect on him, and how he’s still basically functioning that way. It’s a point, sure, like the primal therapist I saw tell an audience, “When I look at you I see a bunch of six-year-olds.” But it’s also very much how many people would like to see artists—as kids in a playpen.

Alan Moore