New York

Bruce Robbins

Blum Helman Gallery

For some time now abstract art has seemed rather beside the point, a worn-out strain of little contemporary significance. But recently, amidst the sudden plethora of what can be described loosely as figurative work (work that is for the most part too vacuous to be excused even on the grounds of fashion), it has been a pleasure to revisit the careful intelligence of the best nonobjective art. Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt have both taken on new strength, and even Hanne Darboven, with her overblown Christmas carol, looks better than she has for some time. All the more disappointing, then, to come across this exhibit by Bruce Robbins, an exhibit which reminds us not only of the emptiness of much purely formalist work, but also of the silliness of so many of the more “energetic” styles of the moment.

Robbins’ paintings are constructed of bits and pieces of wood and canvas, painted and tacked together to make an overall image. There is nothing basically new or innovative about them, although they do manage to look up-to-the-minute. They are workaday examples of a kind of picture making that goes back to Cubism, but unfortunately Robbins seems to be a wee bit embarrassed by his impeccable credentials; he wants to let his hair down, appear to be with it, and of course ends up looking as silly as any academic who tries to act up-to-date.

One can use an old idea, transform it, or discard it: it is not enough to dress it up in new fashions and hope that it will be thereby revitalized. All that is achieved is that the idea is emptied of its meaning in favor of a superficial understanding of style. Robbins picks up on the current overuse of high-key color and metallic paint, dabbles with the flash of mirror fragments and with bold black outlines, but fails to take us anywhere with it all. Conventions, new and old, are simply rehashed. There is plenty of razzmatazz, but little substance.

Thomas Lawson