New York

David Reed

Max Protetch Gallery

I love to see painters take chances. Stella did it. Johns did it. Many of the oldies and goodies have done it; many more have not. Continuing to learn and to develop one’s art is something always to be admired. Though David Reed’s break with his former convention may not be of the same consequence as Stella’s, the development is certainly venturesome and should be regarded with optimism.

Reed has broken away from his brushstroke-as-drawing motif contained within a vertical structure, to two horizontal panels: one brushstroke-as-drawing panel butted up against a conventional troweled-on color panel. The five paintings, hung one to a wall at “stroke” level (Reed’s, I presume, eye-level for me), alternate white brushstroke on black brushed-on ground (paint applied wet on wet) and vice versa, next to a troweled-on, brilliant-color panel. Each panel is, blatantly, the antithesis of the other, in color, gesture and process. The consistency of the alternating panels of brushtroke and troweled-on color is carried through not only within each painting, but from one to the next. For example, a black brushstroke on a white ground goes across the canvas to the edge of the first painting; it is then picked up in the next painting as a white stroke on a black ground. This unresolved stroke finally culminates in the last painting. Thus the works provide a visually rhythmic horizontal continuum. This is so prevalent that I felt compelled to ask if the show was one continuous painting, and if the panels were made to be interchangeable like some of Marden’s early work. The color panels and the brushstroke panels seem to be arbitrarily connected; there is no self-evident reason to the contrary. I was told that each painting was a fixed entity, not interchangeable, and that their hanging was purely the result of installation decisions. A state of ambiguity reigned supreme. Was this the result of looking at esthetically ambiguous paintings or was it due to an extemporaneous gesture at the time of installation, or both?

There is no question that Reed has come to a point where he’s chosen what problematic direction in which to move. The exclusivity of the brushstroke-as-drawing has been expanded to include more conventional elements than ever before; this is obvious. The paintings are executed with deft technique; however, they are not particularly esthetically evocative or extraordinarily arousing intellectually.

By the circular around-the-room perceptual directives set up by the arrangement of paintings, one is made to feel as if he or she is being guided through Reed’s personal travelogue of artistic changes. But somehow the work seems predetermined and intentional. If Reed is attempting to use painting as the epistemic means through which one perceives the universe, I do not question the authenticity of his intention. However, I question the lack of high-ordered paintings exhibited here. The paintings evidence only a fraction of Reed’s potential.

Sharon Gold