New York

Tony King

O.K. Harris Gallery

The shift from Serra’s flirtation with triviality to the genuine trivia produced by Tony King is an abrupt one—so abrupt that one is likely to find oneself thinking more and more favorably of the former’s drawings. After all, they do look good.

King has abandoned an intricately sterile brand of abstraction (in which interlocking shapes were painted to appear three-dimensional) for an equally sterile brand of representational painting, in which the artist reproduces dollar bills. Graphically, his renderings are exact, but his color is deliberately off, allowing a certain amount of painterly expressiveness to creep in. The subject matter ranges from the one-dollar bill to the 500-dollar bill, with the presidential-portrait side up, and with each painting’s size correlated to the denomination of the bill it replicates. The painting of the 500-dollar bill, then, is very large, but still not extravagant enough to outrage or amuse.

King has something on his mind, but he has not been able to translate it into anything substantial. He obviously intends his work to function as a direct and honest confrontation with the realities of the art market, figuring that if it’s all about money anyway, why not paint the stuff? It’s a cute idea, and it does provoke a small smile. But for anyone with a memory, the smile quickly fades: Warhol used the same device, with more wit, quite a few years ago, in one of his least successful series. Money is a compelling subject, both in art and in conversation, but somehow its direct representation fails to provoke more than the shallowest of responses. King’s attempt remains a cheap shot. Money is worth more than that.

Thomas Lawson