New York

Lynn Umlauf

Into this history falls LYNN UMLAUF. Both Peri’s and her shapes are impossible to describe although they feel “right.” Geometric in the widest, most fluid sense of the word, the shapes approach the figural and the movement of a figure without losing their identities as “just shapes.” Umlauf’s “reliefs” are very flat, made of paper laid on canvas tacked nonchalantly to the wall so their material irregularities give an illusion of volume without depth. Peri achieves a complex under-over, flapping hide-and-seek, front-and-back intrigue by a puzzling figure-ground play of simple color and odd, spikey shape. Umlaut uses two barely distinct materials, which give the slightest impression of in-and-out and front-and-behind. In the simplest piece, two longish shapes are separated below the center by a horizontal boundary where they touch along an equal limit. The two areas seem to have “opened up” at the line, like petals, even though they don’t look like natural or organic forms.

For Peri, and for the post-Minimalist, the problem has always been to generate the irrational out of a strictly “rational” system. This has meant the collaboration of an obvious procedure which would establish a powerfully graphic image with its own subversion. (So, for instance, Peri’s reliefs occupy architectural space while energizing and changing it on its own terms, and LeWitt’s systems are so exhaustive as to become hallucinations.) While one can readily see how each of Umlaut’s sheets is formed, sectioned and layered, they also partake in the post-Minimal atmosphere where “anything goes”—where objects need not be any more than “sensibility” and refined “individuality.” In other words, Umlauf creates certified Umlauf-objects, slightly at variance with structured geometric abstraction in being relaxed and soft, recognizably individual.

The problem is that Umlauf gives no really memorable or striking image. Her muted colors—pale violets, ochres, salmons, pastel greens and sea blues, the most bleached-out yellows—don’t add anything to the character of the shapes or rebound each other; they merely give the work a “signature.” The palette seems neither part of the material (although the paint looks stained) nor is it effectively pictorial (as luminosity, as emanation). The shapes and colors are a bit too noncommittal. This being said, the reliefs are still quite pretty, quietly rejecting the prevailing non-choice between high-pitched, screaming heavy-duty color and “natural,” truth-to-material color. Umlauf resists her shapes’ potential aggressiveness and refuses to over manipulate or command her objects to attention. What one misses, however, is the presence of necessity rather than the excuse of “self-expression” for the work existing. Umlaut seems well-informed about her choices and has found a comfortable little niche within her preferred style. But there is something slightly inoffensive about her work—even its eccentricities are hushed with discretion, perhaps restricted by it. We still have a lot to learn from artists like Peri about making art without clinging to an extrinsic system for protection.

Jeff Perone