New York

Al Held

Andre Emmerich Gallery

Drawing’s two ways of defining space—overlapping and perspective—are played off one against the other in Al Held’s new and ever more refined black and white paintings. By contradicting a spatial situation defined by a perspective cube, for instance, by overlapping part of it with a fragment of a circle or a grid that is understood elsewhere in the painting to be behind that cube, he charges the painting surface with a Hofmannesque push-pull dynamic and turns the most elementary feat of perspective (every child’s first drawing trick: two squares with corners connected by diagonals) into an eternally ambiguous statement that says “deep space” one second and “flat abstraction” the next.

Most of the new paintings include an underlying grid through which Held’s classical vocabulary of cubes, triangles in perspective and circles is woven. Some cubes are drawn in Western perspective with the near face clearly larger than the far face. Some cubes, however, appear with both near and far faces the same size as in Chinese and Japanese paintings and prints, making it unclear whether the viewer is looking up at, or down on, the shape.

Critics have been confused by the small, solid black triangles, circles or squares that have appeared in Held’s paintings in recent years. They seem to be references for detailed readings of certain passages. They encourage the viewer to come closer to the painting, to change scalar reference from the relatively huge geometric shapes to the small black shape surrounded by white and a few thin straight or curving lines. From this vantage point a different, nondescriptive but equally beautiful logic of line can be appreciated.

I always find the black on white paintings more successful than the white on black ones. Perhaps because white is the presence of all colors it is better able to suggest a plane. Black, the absence of color, suggests limitless space, making Held’s black paintings seem like cobwebs of white lines stretched over a vast emptiness. The white paintings especially are endlessly fascinating works.

Ross Skoggard