Los Angeles

Ed Moses

James Corcoran Gallery

Ed Moses’ natural affinity to Minimalist orthodoxy has rarely been more evident than in the ten new paintings shown here. Nor have the results of his devotion to reductive painting ever been better. Moses’ pursuit of an irreducibly abstract image has been awkwardly out of sync with the wider development of abstract painting during the last ten years. Until now I thought he was beating a dead horse. But it seems that the single-mindedness behind his work allowed for a degree of ahistorical insouciance. His work is distinguished as much by its ascetic rigor (by California standards), as by its tenacity.

All of the paintings on canvas share a format: four independently stretched surfaces hung contiguously. Within each horizontal painting, each of the units (with two exceptions) is a square, variously 2 by 2 feet, 3 by 3 feet or 4 by 4 feet. The Minimalist penchant for aggregate units no doubt motivated this decision, but the separateness of the panels also allows for independent color, opacity, and set of painting marks for each: here, the notions of surface and process become apparent: the panels, mostly matte, reveal their temperaments—brushed, rolled, sanded, painted, scraped. The space each fosters is resolutely literal: one color over another, paint over the entire surface,—or paint thinned and sharing the picture plane with the canvas. All are flat, impeccably modernist. Moses has succeeded in his ambition, which he stated a few years ago as wanting to “create a painting that has nothing to do with me or with the three-dimensional world.”

When he juxtaposes an uninflected black panel to a scraped-down, day-glo-orange one, a green-on-a-day-glo to a thinly brushed black over random red, the inescapable impression is that of a compendium of processes. It is a curious kind of art-for-art’s sake, or, better perhaps, art-for-art-making’s sake. But its denial and restraint make it interesting. We have not been subjected to yet another expressionist reprise.

The palette Moses has turned to, mostly blacks, fluorescent reds and oranges and a peculiar green (previously seen only in Mangold’s paintings), supplies an animating contradiction. All of this pared-down structure supports the loudest, most strident color imaginable. In one painting, close-hued and optically impossible, opaque red and thinned red panels bracket day-glo orange and brillant cerise panels. These combinations blare off the walls like so many flashing sirens. It was Stella who first proposed a repertoire entirely outside “natural” color, but he has since chosen a wildly exuberant way of making pictures, dependent as much on gesture as on hue. Similarly, Al Held, in his new work, suffuses elegantly accommodating, enveloping spaces with a rainbow of oddly appropriate color. Both are after subtleties that are foreign to Moses. It may be Moses’ fate to sustain what was once known with approbation as “self-referential painting.” His diligence and ease with Minimal ingredients should in turn sustain him.

Richard Armstrong