New York

Robert Zakanitch

Robert Miller Gallery

Robert Zakanitch makes very enticing paintings of flower and plant patterns in pale colors. His designs, if not actually taken from old chintz or wallpaper patterns, look as though they might have been. Usually he makes triptychs, one pattern covering the two end panels, a different one in the middle, so that this central one is emphasized by framing. The central panels also tend to have bolder, bigger patterns, and contrastier and brighter colors. Why these central panels are being emphasized, though, is not explained by their patterns. More dramatic though they might be, they contain nothing that is in any way more important, interesting or really different. As a result of this elegant but rather pointless emphasis, Zakanitch’s whole works have a sense of being tautological and vapid.

I’m afraid that theorizing about or analyzing Zakanitch’s work, or finding its meaning in the historical comment it makes—i.e., abstract painting Z is meaningful as an historical countermove against painting Y of 1963, which was itself a comment on painting X of 1951—will do little to summon for it the content that it lacks to begin with. This is not to say that his paintings are empty—they do have a history which accounts for them. It is because of Pop art that Zakanitch is able to take a visual item from the real world (wallpaper, quilts, furniture coverings) and transpose it directly into a painting. It is because of the recent turn away from reductivist imagery—toward complexity, seductiveness and plainer emotion—that he is able to use patterns as picturesque as these. In this, Zakanitch is entirely contemporary.

Nonetheless, I can find no basic experience at the center of Zakanitch’s pictures, except for a pleasure in style for its own sake that suggests a familiarity with the world of art at the expense of the world. This itself is a function of the state of things in painting. Relieved of the burden of being avant garde, of having to have every visual move be justifiable as a theoretical, philosophical move, many painters have lately felt freed to be sensualists and, among other things, decorators as they once were. “Pattern painting” begins here but unfortunately, much of it ends here too. Zakanitch’s patterns might make fine subjects for paintings, but the last thing they ought to do is be paintings. When they are transposed directly into pictures the artist becomes the decorator himself, leaving much too fine a line between his works and the wallpaper on which they might ultimately hang.

Leo Rubinfien