New York

Pinchas Cohen Gan

Max Protetch

I wonder if I am wrong thinking that Pinchas Cohen Gan is basically a whimsical, dryly humorous, childlike spirit. Is the informality and offhandedness disguising something more serious? Is the seeming naiveté willed or natural, and an end in itself?

Art History A is a pile of small canvases in the middle of the room. Why am I attracted most to the Crayola-like colors and the self-depreciating mockery, and not the analytic dissection? Proposition Painting with a Real Copy of an Orange is made of two panels: one, that classic bad-taste color, thalo green with white; the other, a tacky fuschia. Underneath these panels is Cohen Gan’s jokey “Painting as a window to the world” fixture, a window sill. It also reads as a “step” into the painting. On the step rests a “real” plastic orange. Again, it is the surrealist overtones that are attractive, not the philosophical speculation on the meaning of reality.

Paintings here are “propositions” where the nature of painting is (linguistically? philosophically?) put on trial. The “facts” are what we can point to and name correctly. Visual Proposition of Figure (Red) Form (Yellow) and Formula (Light Blue) involves a real doll painted red (as figure), a yellow plastic football (as “form”) and an unstretched canvas painted an uneven blue (as “formula”). Then there is Proposition Painting with Green and Red Roots which has one green and one red step below it. The Artist’s Studio is a sawhorse with panels in those same crayon colors, and a stumpy log with colored canvases covered with black. All these things are OK, very clever; but they are all in very old Johns territory. The paradoxes and conventions are laid out and understood as clearly as if we were reading or speaking them.

Real Painting A with Figure is different. It’s not quite as demonstrative as the others, and works as a painting, simply because its “proposition” is visual rather than linguistic. Real Painting is two identical paintings, arranged together to form a different painting altogether. A see-through surface with a figure hangs over a similar canvas, but the one behind is hung sideways so that the two figures form a cross. The rear, levitating figure is ghostly and “unreal,” and it hints at things which simple statement cannot begin to deal with. Cohen Gan has received critical notice for his (re)introduction of the figure into (linguistically inspired) painting. But innovation of this kind deflects us from a more serious concern: subject matter which functions as more than straw-man propositions demonstrating taxonomic tautologies.

Jeff Perrone