New York

Bernd Naber

Tony Shafrazi Gallery

Nothing could look more different from Walker’s paintings than the rolled canvases of Bernd Naber, yet the young German painter proves to be working with a very similar set of ideas and achieving similar results. Trained as a Minimalist, Naber has gradually been feeling his way toward a less premeditated, more directly sensual art. As a result he now sees a dichotomy between the painterly process and the reason that the process is activated, between the work and the idea. The most important aspect is once again the actual working, the manipulation of paint; the conceptual framework for the work remains incidental, an attempt to seem more than simply a painter.

Naber works on both sides of unstretched canvas, layering pigments, powders and oils to build up two complementary surfaces. The paint is rubbed and sanded so that it is smooth, but with enough texture to allow the lower strata to show through. The colors tend to be muted, and of a rather cool tonality.

The craftsmanship displayed in these surfaces is impressive, and again one must admit that looking closely at them can provide a degree of pleasure. But one wants more than this myopic jouissance. Naber seems to want more, too, but can only come up with a gimmick in his presentation. The work could be simply pinned to the wall in the traditional manner, but in that case its two-sided nature would not be readily apparent. To overcome this and at the same time give the work a more radical flavor, Naber stacks his canvases on the floor, like so many carpets in a showroom, or rolls them up and leans them against the wall.

The result is chic—even amusing, for the unconventional presentation makes the paintings look more like merchandise than art. But for me they remain paintings to be enjoyed close up, to be fingered and caressed. Objects for the senses. Material to be touched, with hands and eyes. Traditional, old fashioned paintings, uncritical, undistanced, safely modern.

Thomas Lawson