New York

Heidi Glück

Bertha Urdang Gallery

Writing this review has been a wrestling match with works I felt at first gave me too little to go on. Heidi Glück’s paintings looked too skeletal, the signposts too scant: there were lines, geometric forms, empty blocks of space between forms—the forms your eyes sketched into the empty spaces. You read from left to right, covered ground or kept time with your eyes which were held in, and sent back and forth, by the clearly marked edges of the canvas.

Some of the longer paintings on canvas look like the last possible paintings one could make short of working directly on the wall, as if they have been stretched to a point at which all forms and colors must maintain a delicate balance to keep the whole thing from breaking. The paintings hold tightly together, are things in themselves, succinct, tense, self-sufficient, most of all, rational. But some of those triangles are really crocodiles with irrational undersides: they’re not platonic forms, they have their start in fantasy. They look like what they’re not: rational, cool, diagrammatic forms, cryptic.

Likewise the short, vertical lines (stops) in the paintings and the spaces which they mark out. Our eyes busily fill in the mirror images of other forms or continue forms on, but into spaces that aren’t in fact as long as they would have to be to work. They only look as if they do. I connected to the works first on this level; I liked the way the input for so rational an end product was in fact so irrational, the mix of dead seriousness and play. But I don’t want to cloud the works with too extensive a report from their libido. Because they are what you see, and not what the artist can tell you about them.

I cheated: turned to Glück for the facts I needed to figure out how the pictures worked. Telling myself (or hearing the artist tell me) that it should have been possible to understand the pictures without the biographical baggage, something which I wasn’t able to do. An analogy then, from Glück, for what I saw happening over the whole surface of any of the paintings: Greek attic vases, paint that looks as if it’s pasted on, blacks on terra-cottas, as she pointed out, the “handles” that those lines form at the edges of her pictures. The vases being coherent, contained, circular forms in space, with an order, rules, logic of their own; like one of Glück’s canvases, stretched, held in tension; the space manipulated, the true appearances of things compromised in filling in the space, “distortions” for the sake of the whole representation. When it comes to translating visual ideas from drawings (of which five sets were exhibited) to canvas, compromises are made, the vertical lines made thicker, for example, so that they can hold their own on a new scale, and against a material that breathes more than paper does.

The exhibition included works on paper and composition board as well. The ideas Glück is dealing with sometimes work even better on paper or board than they do on canvas. The eye has an easier time in skimming over the harder, more opaque surfaces, and lines and forms really cut the space, fix it, freeze it, pull it down; the lines even have a materiality about them like glued-on pieces of thread, in a way that seems closer to what I think the artist is after.

So why do I keep returning to the paintings on canvas? Because they are riskier, the relations they mark out more fragile; and because the selection and matching of inks and acrylics, the contrasting of those to the ground, the sealing shut of the canvas, the measuring out and the placing of forms involves a drama: I think you can feel that they often don’t work. And since they’re paintings on canvas which could be much less specific than they are, I feel a tension in them, a pull between the wish to paint (anything), to color, and the more important commitment at this point at least to saying something specific, to disciplining oneself, to controlling strictly what goes into the paintings, to keeping the work abstract. The paintings look skeletal but are loaded, and when they work they really work.

Barbara Flynn