New York

Michael Loew

Marilyn Pearl Gallery

To review Michael Loew’s paintings is to review, in précis, a tradition of modern painting, one that is based in Cubism and refined in neoplasticism. There are passages in the work, but the grid does not allow for revolutions. This latter observation is a criticism only if one assumes that development necessarily means refinement.

At first a figure painter, Loew soon came under the influence of Mondrian. Even today he works from life—abstracts from figurative images to self-referential forms. Such a passage can be seen not only within the stages of each painting (as it proceeds from sketch to watercolor to oil) but also within the work as a whole: from a Cubistic fragmentation of objects to the purer abstraction of the grid.

Painting like Loew’s is quintessentially modern. In retrospect, such painting seems all but dependent on the grid, for it is the grid that intervened between the space of the painting and the space of the world, thus allowing painting to become autonomous. Loew is committed to such abstraction, so much so that the grid itself is abstracted into bars of color. Paradoxically, this renders the paintings allusive: the colors are naturalistic and the bars float in space as figures. A sense of space and time, evoked by traces that appear as after-images to the bars of color, is introduced; this questions the modernist “purity” of the work. I do not mean that the paintings equivocate between abstraction and representation. Loew does not oppose these two terms, but rather shows how one resides within the other.

The grid is crucial to such a dialectic. It is also crucial to modern painting’s pursuit of “purity.” Such purity, as Donald Kuspit noted, can be contradictory—often its impulse is transcendent while its effect is materialist. Rosalind Krauss has suggested that the grid is able to suspend or repress our spiritual/material split. Michael Loew’s painting is a good example of such a suspension.

Hal Foster