New York

Giorgio Cavallon

Gruenebaum and Patricia Learmonth galleries

Giorgio Cavallon was represented this spring by three large shows. Early paintings, from the ’50s, were exhibited at Learmonth. A much better group of new paintings were shown at Gruenebaum. (There was a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum, too, but I did not see it.)

The main feature of Cavallon’s paintings is their presentation of a certain, but ambiguous, kind of light. Hilton Kramer, in an unusually poetic mood, calls this emanation “a delicate white radiance, romantic and other-worldly.” Almost all the more interesting paintings have an underlayer suggestive of grid-like structures, blocked out in strong, full color. Over that, to obscure the. “rigidity” of the quasi-grid, he paints fuzzier, random rectangles of white, yellow, or pastel color. Occasionally, there is a shot of forest green or bright orange. The surface layer often seems to be Rothkoesque, until one realizes that Rothko hardly ever used white. The overall effect is much more like Stamos. The new paintings are the most white; some canvases seem to be divided in half, with reversed or mirrored irregular structures. The brushy, thinned white pigment laid over them makes it impossible to tell exactly how systematic the underpainting is. By using mostly white in the newer work, however, more of that structure can be seen, and the paintings do not look so meaningless or arbitrary. There is something of an intimation of a hidden source behind all this colorless brilliance. But Cavallon’s color, on the whole, does not seem so original as to bear much repetition. Nor do the paintings’ obvious representations of dualities (rigid/fuzzy, hard/soft, foreground/background, ground/light) lead to a kind of metaphysical speculation or overall view. Instead, everything seems pretty much in limbo, floating in unresolve.

I am not sure what there is to find in Cavallon’s work which cannot be better found in other abstract or representational painting which deals with painting as a light source. His paintings most clearly represent an episode of taste which, judging by its triumphant return this spring, exemplifies a social situation demanding soft, almost decadent, pleasures. (One is tempted to mention color photography in the same breath.) What Cavallon does is to hide, disguise, or make palatable the difficulties by the introduction of fuzzy, atmospheric color on top of something apparently more vigorous. It is getting more difficult to do something difficult, although difficulty is not a positive quality per se.

The accessible is relative. More rarefied forms of art ask that the viewer be an initiate, to be a viewer who knows. Then, everything becomes accessible. Sometimes it is good to know what an artist is trying to do, although gauging the intentions against the results can turn artworks into problem-solving mock-ups of meaning. Forthright accessibility can be good: it might be that things themselves are out in the open. But even when there is nothing, if you know enough you can manage to find something there.

Jeff Perrone