New York

Abbie Zabar

Blum Helman Gallery

Abbie Zabar makes pictures that look like pale and precious watercolors out of bits of cut paper. They are all landscape, for the most part near freeways or quiet remote airports, but occasionally they include views of open, rolling countryside in England or France. As far as I know, Zabar has not exhibited often, and there is much about these pictures that is amateurish: their benign subject matter, perhaps primarily the association one can’t help making between them and the traditional genre landscapes of the amateur Sunday painter. Nonetheless, Zabar’s pictures are a good deal more intelligent and poetic than much of the current gallery fare, maybe because they belong to none of the “approved” schools of artistic thought, and rely on thinking that is clear and unpretentious:

Considered in light of their sources, Zabar’s pictures contain a number of incongruities. One usually sees her medium—cut paper collage—employed for abstract works. And while a collagist has recourse to colors of all kinds and all degrees of brightness, Zabar’s are the pale ones one associates with watercolor painting, where nothing can ever become extremely intense. Meanwhile, her subjects are those of photographers such as Stephen Shore and Robert Adams, and of photo-realist painters, all precisionists, even though the rendering in her pictures is necessarily crude (a line is not drawn but created by a cut edge.) Finally, her soft, lyrical colors—pale blue, gray, beige, etc.— are not the ones which we expect to see in the public works projects—reservoirs, airports, etc.— she is so fond of showing.

Zabar’s pictures, then, enigmatically combine a wistful, almost sentimental manner of statement with subjects it is hard to imagine feeling sentimental about. In series, they read like a travel diary—vignettes from various places along the road. Yet most of the time, they are not places along the road, but the road itself: Zabar will show us the airport at Nantucket, white unpeopled and breezy, but never the beach. Whatever her destinations were, or the events that made up her travels, remain untold. Thus we have from her a kind of nostalgia for transit itself, for the kind of moment, tremendously good just because of its casualness and freedom, when one can look intently and aimlessly out the window of a plane which has stopped at a meaningless airport near an invisible town, and will soon take one back to the world of responsibility.

Everything is happy and bright, distant and diminutive in Zabar’s pictures, which contain almost no theatre at all. On one hand this keeps them free of pretension—I doubt they carry any theory as baggage. But it also limits what they can speak about, keeps them to moments that are too precious to be trivial, but are never profound. One could argue for some kind of irony in Zabar’s work, but although there is a kind of Pop sarcasm in picturing a freeway overpass as if it were a Roman aqueduct, and a degree of perverseness in rendering it as if in paint-by-numbers colors, her collages are much too benign in the end to be mocking themselves or anything else. Ultimately, they will become richer as they become more ambitious.

Leo Rubinfien