New York

Jack Youngerman

Pace Gallery

Jack Youngerman offers all-white sculpture—three-dimensional fiberglass and resin versions of the shapes made familiar by his paintings in recent years. These shapes are vaguely floral, usually one to a painting, with strong affinities to Matisse’s late cutouts. Youngerman employs only outline to suggest the interior configurations of his painted shapes. Thus, the transposition from two to three dimensions opens silhouettes up into fully articulated forms. This is not necessarily a gain. Whatever interest Youngerman’s recent paintings have had lay in their graphic ambiguities. By removing ambiguity, the artist provides an uncalled-for explanation of a formal kind, and unhelpful associations are generated.

As I said, Youngerman’s painted shapes are generally floral. Motifs of this kind are conventionally considered to be neutral, that is, pretexts for images to be given a primarily abstract reading. In their fiberglass and resin condition, the artist’s “flowers” compare in size to those on his rather large canvases. At that dimension, some of them take on a ludicrous resemblance to half a giant clam shell. Others suggest moments in the descent of a gigantic but delicately dropped hankie. These cartoonish effects aren’t intended, of course. Even Youngerman’s version of ’50s-style painterliness was guided by ideals of elegance. So, too, I suppose, was his decision to make sculpture. I mention inelegant aspects of the results of this sculptural foray, not to be unkind, but to raise the possibility that the whole project was entered upon for no very good reason, and thus provides no reason at all to be surprised by its unfortunate outcome. I am reminded of the less drastic, much more common transpositions one sees when painters make prints of their most familiar imagery. Youngerman had already done that. As a next step, sculpture may have been inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it was necessary.

At its roughest, Youngerman’s art has been carefully, elegantly crafted. The contrast between these precisely folded, belled, flared sculptures and John Chamberlain’s crumpled sheets of transparent plexiglas is striking. Chamberlain’s pieces looked precious when they were new, with their easily read folds and their ingratiating iridescence. They still look precious, but they make Youngerman’s sculpture—for all the weight of its opaque fiberglass—look like the merest whim.

––Carter Ratcliff