New York

Bruce Boice

In the early ’70s Bruce Boice did paintings in three panels; each panel was framed by strips of wood and/or unpainted bands on the border of the canvas and was governed by a unit of measure that seemed to be the depth of the canvas (from the wall). Robert Pincus-Witten read these paintings as equations or transformations, in which the panel framed with wood represented painting as a “picture” (because the frame concealed the stretcher ) and the unframed panel represented painting as an “object.” The panel in between mediated the two, acting as the “operation” of the equation.

Whether the painting could be so reduced is unsure; what is sure is that Boice defined and then composed the pictorial and the physical elements of painting in a sequential, or additive, way. Later, the sequential arrangement gave over to a field of panels: each panel was less a unit in itself than a part of one greater whole; the operation of these paintings was division, rather than addition. In these paintings, painted forms bind the panels together, but the composition is so resolved that it is difficult to tell which order—that of the forms or that of the panels—takes precedence.

To clarify the transition to the latest work, one of these paintings is included in his most recent show. Entitled Flesh, it is made up of six panels, three on top, three on the bottom. Given the title, and the flesh-tones of the forms, one is tempted to read it as an abstracted genre painting of three nudes or bathers, but it is not as banal as such an abstraction would be: it is as if the “nudes“ are presented—actually made present, not represented—by the structure of the panels; as if the nudes as a subject are pronounced by the painting as an object. (Brice Marden has done a similar thing with landscape in his panel paintings.)

I discuss the older work because it leads, not just to, but into the new work: the painting synthesizes itself, as if each painting were made interior to the next. For example, if the three-panel paintings oppose the terms “picture” and “object,” the multipanel paintings go further and superimpose them. That kind of complication is important: it seems that the ambition of the work is to present as many of the sides (literally) of the painting as possible. The insistence on the frames, as devices that displace, and so make us think about, the front and the sides, even the back of the painting, and the insistence on the depth of the canvas as a unit of measure for its width, are aspects of the same ambition. It is related, I think, to the ambition of the Cubists to present all sides of an object—only here the object is the painting itself. The ambition still involves a reconciliation of a physical object and a pictorial surface, but here the object is not external to the surface but internal to it, literally all around it. Because this is so, the reconciliation proceeds from the edge (where the sides of the painting meet), not from the center, as is more apt to be the case with Cubist painting, whose weakness, at the edge is well known.

Such a reconciliation—what could be called the representation of the painting—is a result of the work synthesizing itself over the last ten years or so. The new paintings, which, except for one, are one-canvas paintings, seem to conclude the process. But it often seems this way with Boice, and this is indeed the criticism he usually gets: that the work is too concluded, too closed. (It is an important point in that it compels one to ask whether it is better that art be resolved and whole unto itself, or open in structure and able to engage directly that which it is not.) The work seems so concluded because its evolution seems so logical. This is partly true. It will be interesting to see where Boice goes from here.

Hal Foster