New York

Larry Zox

Andre Emmerich Gallery uptown

Larry Zox’s new paintings develop out of what used to be called the “mainstream” of American abstract painting—out of Noland, Frankenthaler, Olitski, Louis, Motherwell. But more and more this mainstream—the product of historical criticism—seems to fit Matthew Arnold’s description of all history as “that great Mississippi of falsehoods.” The mainstream, moreover, has spread out into tributaries. And theories that claim to have “gotten to the bottom” of the nature of painting have, in fact, only flattened it out.

Zox’s painting could be a model of that process. Once he resisted flaccidity with strong; hard-edge geometrics. Now the paint’s seepage into the canvas seems not so much to stain it as to slip out of reach. The prevalent colors are brown and sandy; the forms suggest sandbars and shallows edging out of the uniformity of the fields. Brushstrokes are stiff, uncertain, dry, unfluid. The lines of color seem merely to cruise without conviction or energy among the flats and occasionally to run aground entirely.

Zox now favors the narrow vertical canvases Kenneth Noland was showing a few years ago and he falls prey to the same dangers which affected Noland then: the area is simply too small to afford the colors room to act. This is all the more true of the eight or ten watercolor-on-paper sketches included in the show, which more or less parallel the designs of the larger paintings without being explicit designs for them.

The late colorfielders made much of cropping, and judged on his ability to crop, Zox comes up a failure too. The corners stop right where things show signs of becoming interesting, and the viewer feels that somehow he must have missed the painting in the shuffle.

Phil Patton