New York

Sharon Gold

Bertha Urdang Gallery

The six paintings and seven drawings in Sharon Gold’s show look much like the work of last year: thick skins of dark, near-black paint, textured with palette knife, so as to obscure zones of primary color (in the paintings) and earthy color (in the drawings). Lines scratch the black and expose red, yellow, blue: the shock of the gesturalism is such that it devalues the vibrant latency of the color (which is nonetheless intuited).

Gold is wary of color but also outraged (outrageous) with it. It’s as if she fears its conceits, much as writers fear linguistic norms that couch false consciousness. Color is of course not the reservoir of ideology that language is. Still, Gold is color-shy, distrustful of the power of color or color-names. Here she recalls Brice Marden (“Color losing identities, becoming color”), yet Gold, unlike Marden, doesn’t erase the color-name as she uses the color. Marden makes color unique as such; Gold covers (which seems less satisfactory) and then, as if angered, she exposes it in scars.

The strategy of the authors of the nouveau roman was to deflect ideology-laden language to a “degree zero” of writing: the premium was opacity, not naive transparency, object-surface, not anthropocentric “depth.” Gold’s is a like critique of norms of color, but it is ambivalent: opacity is not an answer (and she is correct). Indeed, she shows a melancholy of opacity and a nostalgia for transparency. To summarize: in literature and in painting the turn from referentiality to reflexivity is also a turn from transparency (in literature) and illusionism (in painting) to what I call opacity—crudely, a concern with words as words and paint as paint. Opacity now has the clout of convention and Gold bears up. (One work to keep in mind here is Duchamp’s Fresh Widow, a window painted black, in mock-mourning for the loss of referentiality, of intercourse with the outside—the sexual absence of the other, that which is depicted.)

The scratches, it seems, would scrape the black off the window, to expose the world (of colors) and the figure/ground outside—to relate and be referential. As scratches, they are incomplete and, as scratches, they attest to outrage at repression, the epochal demand for opacity (and the hellish reality of the opacity of the canvas itself). I do not mean to psychologize the work; that’s another outrage. Nevertheless, the lines do seem to be indices of an interiority that recoils as its gestures reify: as expression becomes horror at confession, an inadvertent mimesis of self-violation.

But this may be on the surface; underneath may be a saturnine sublimity. For personal or cultural reasons, Gold cannot paint an inner/outer correlative, nor can she aspire to the Abstract Expressionist Sublime. The tendency to a sublime mode is checked, which of course renders a higher, darker sublimity. But her consciousness is such that that too is not allowed, and the sublime mode and the present taboo of the mode (encoded, I think, in Minimalism) are struck at.

The work is tense, but I may make more of the tension than there is; it may be facile, a matter of pose/depose/repose. Objectness is posed by the deep support, deposed by the spatiality of the black, then reposed in the layered crust of the surface. The support is at once a projection outward and an armature inward (like a windowsill); the dictated resolution comes in the opacity of the surface, violated by a line of “transparency” here and there.

The cruciformality of the paintings interests me. Each work has a “T” or a “zip” or a Cross motif: black strips, often off-center, that are in fact overlapping layers of paint. The strip is drawing of a sort, a figure on the surface, yet, as its texture is that of the canvas and its rectilinearity mimes that of the support, it seems a part of the ground. As in the Stations of the Cross of Newman and the recent Annunciations of Marden, the figure/ground relation is problematic, part of a Christological import. As Rosalind Krauss and Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe have noted, the Cross is the valorized motif in painting, one that resolves (vertical) figure and (horizontal) ground and the suspension (“crucifixion”) of the canvas on the wall. I do not think it too outlandish to read a kind of narrative here (not unlike that of the Stations or the Annunciations), a scriptural story whose text is history, a specific event that unfolds, with the scars as incident, in large, fleshly history at once ephemeral and affixed to the Christological order, as centered in the Cross. (Here, technique is important: Gold, unlike Dennis Masback, who also works with cruciformality, builds up to the Cross, as if to inflect the process in history. Masback scrapes down, a process that is archeological in inflection.) Gold’s is a dark vision: history is a totalitarian black, the womb of the canvas opaque to any Logos.

Hal Foster