New York

Bruce Boice

Sonnabend Gallery

Over the last few years, Bruce Boice’s paintings have grown progressively more complex. His largest jump, from, in a sense, solo to symphonic composition, has occurred between his last and his current shows. Boice’s works are still aggregates of small, modular canvases, but there are many more of these in each of the new pictures—between nine and twelve per piece, as compared to three or four in the past. The overall works are simple squares and rectangles, without the irregular perimeters which characterized his earlier triptychs. On the inside, however, he has painted uncommon triangles and polygons in such a way that they overlap the boundaries of the modules that make up each picture. Thus his new works are built on a dissonant relation between basic, square blocks of canvas, and a geometrical scheme that overrides their prior order, even though that order remains clearly visible through layers of paint.

There are, moreover, many times more painted shapes in the new work, and Boice seems to have had no trouble in juggling them to a perfect balance. In fact, these shapes are so evenly weighed that they have no center of gravity. They are each a screen of disjunctive shapes superimposed upon a screen of regular shapes—visual gestures hovering in utterly calm free fall. This amounts to an abandonment of determining system in Boice’s work, or, rather, a recognition that system was for him never more than a theoretical cover for choices that had always been visually intuitive.

For all the courageousness of this wholehearted move into the subjective, Boice’s paintings remain as blandly neutral as ever. They suggest late Diebenkorns held down to hard edges and stripped of textural nuance. While Boice has managed a dissonance between a regular scheme and an irregular one, he has also matched these two contenders so surely that there is finally no real contention between them. One cannot distinguish between them as structure and ornamentation, or read Boice’s work as a debate between randomness and exactitude. Boice’s purism thus becomes an ideal suspended in a void. Lacking reference to any less pure condition or scheme, the ideal in turn becomes valueless as either positive or negative. In short, content has vanished in Boice’s pursuit of easy elegance.

Thus it seems that neither visual simplicity nor visual complexity is a necessary route to intellectual or emotional depth—an artist can be polite and self-effacing in either mode. One would like to see Boice address his formal sense to less trivial issues, or disrupt it so that it became an issue itself, or find still another route to significance. As it is, Boice remains a painter who has not done anything wrong, but who has likewise avoided doing anything breathtakingly right.

Leo Rubinfien