New York

Gordon Hart

Susan Caldwell

GORDON HART’s “new” paintings look like his last ones—colored fields with bars coming out from the sides at regular intervals. There is one with three panels where the fields and the bars are black with differences between them indicated by the contrasting dullness or shininess of the paint surface. There is a three-panel painting with blue fields and bars, all of which look identical to me. There is a two-panel painting which looks Rothkoesque—the variations are spelled out in very close-valued and intense reds and red-oranges. There is a small painting with blue, smokey pink and gray; another with gold leaf field and white bars with its “negative” in white field and gold bars. Another has three panels in matching reds, oranges and mauves. The bars in this one are not all at the same level in each panel or between them. This variation of heights and intervals gives the painting an Op art flicker of illusionistic bars hovering and jumping in the fields. But perhaps it is the color alone, or the color and the placement, or just the staggered placements which are responsible for the mirages.

All the paintings stand out from the wall about two inches or more. I cannot tell whether the paintings are solid woodblocks, hollow frames with wood fronts, or more like boxes with the “bottom” or “back” missing. Or maybe they are wooden boxes with the surface stretched on the front but not on the sides, and made so well that one cannot tell how the surface attaches to the support. The paint application on all of the panels is similar: neither smooth nor rough, thick nor thin, too regular nor too irregular.

There is one painting different from the rest. It is an eight-panel painting in black, white, gray and yellow. The panels are arranged in two rows of four across. On the far left, the two panels appear to have once been “together” and then taken “apart.” (All the panels in all the paintings are far apart from each other.) In other words, there is a pictorial element, a bar, which begins on one panel and continues onto another. Also, on the two bottom panels on the far right, a diagonal bar divides the very bottom of the extreme right-hand panel. This bar goes up from right to left and the next panel has a bar coming up from the bottom and is cut off diagonally at the level where, if you extend the first bar across to the second panel, it would “cut” the second, vertical bar.

Sometimes art is very difficult. It’s not always easy to tell what is important and what is not. I don’t know what is important to Hart and I never found out, even though I looked at his paintings for a very long time, and thought about them while trying to write this review. Perhaps they have something to do with the painting-as-detachable-panel tradition, but in that case, detachable from what? Perhaps they are concerned primarily with color interaction. In that case, I admit that some panels had nice color and others were more boring to me. I don’t know why the bars are there at all—why bars and not anything else. I know the bars locate themselves with reference to the horizontal and vertical of the panels’ shape, but that would not explain the large painting with the diagonals. The restrictions are easily spelled out, as are their slight variations. One can always read a lot into color—it is the most flexible of art materials—so it is to color that interpretation might run. Hart’s reds and oranges are sumptuous but tight, radiant but repetitive. Even the gold and white painting is clinical rather than “spiritual,” as in early Italian Renaissance painting. And “spirituality,” like “transcendence,” is the last gasp of hope for meaning after everything else falls through.

Jeff Perone