New York

Denise Green

Max Protetch Gallery

Denise Green works with two interlocking but easily separable aspects of Jasper Johns’ early work: flat or flattened, silhouetted, sign-like subjects combined with graphic and painterly looseness. Green cordons off a little territory of her own, employing a verbal humor tied to punning, making her work more available to discussion than most “New Image” painting, and a little closer to Johns than one might wish. My little bit of pseudo-art-historical precedent-setting and influence-peddling hardly constitutes a justification or idea about the art; I just don’t find this kind of art so new or fresh.

Green’s Plane repeats “747” as a symbol for “airplane”; it reminds one of Johns’ “picture plane” disseminating art by air freight. The painting has a blue sky for an upper half, complete with moons. The lower half is magenta with variations on triangle shapes, quite inventive and clever: triangles hooked together as diamonds, rearranged into arrows, all floating in space, echoing the triangle of the “4,” and imitating the “7” as an arrow itself. This painting, like all the others, consisted of a play between crayon and oil, wax drawing against paint as color. This lended a layering to the paintings, which kept them from being “flat,” but also made the whole enterprise of color somewhat arbitrary.

Vowel, a yellow painting, had a repeated “O” and a silhouette of a cat, reaching up as if scratching on a door to get in. Bull, the most complex of the group, was constructed from two right-angled triangles placed together at their hypotenuses to make an almost-square—a strip of wood (remember the Device Circles and Painting with Two Balls?) kept them apart. Like another painting Trans-, Bull had strange, enigmatic decimal-point numbers written all over it. In Trans- these were more like departure and arrival times (as in an airport, as in trans-portation?), and in Bull, they were more like stock market or commodities averages (as in bull market?). This half-blue, half-red painting also included “HM”s and “E”s, combined in ways to produce signs unlike letters. The proliferation of numerals and letters insured a unity of image and concept that was particularly Johnsian, without his rigor. Green is more laid-back in her use of these conventions, and the cartoony style of most of her work leaves little room for subtle ironies, although she’s big on ambiguity of reference. At the opposite end of the gallery from Bull came Shit, which, less arbitrarily, was of an appropriate color.

Perhaps there was more to it than I seem to indicate by recounting the inventory of images in the paintings. There’s a serious problem with this image-plus-painterliness painting as there was with all that art-is-an-object stuff: if you concentrate on only half of the esthetic at a time, you’re going to end up easily explainable and really nonvisual, only half-interesting.

Jeff Perrone