New York

Jim Dine

Pace | 32 East 57th Street

Jim Dine once admitted to having been the lightweight among Pop artists. By disengaging from them early on, he freed himself to develop his anecdotal, soft-core artfulness into a cozy and productive little industry. Dine’s sensibility, sentimental and fundamentally middlebrow, lends itself well to prosaic imagery or to the offhand elegy, but strains when heavily freighted with emotional intensity.

The New Yorker recently ran a cartoon of a gallery opening where the artist tells a middle-aged couple, “Frankly, in the beginning I had to struggle against a tendency in my work toward the banal. Then one day I simply decided to celebrate the banal.” The caption suits Dine’s big new heart paintings. He evidently wanted to really wrestle with paint, and the results, for the most part, are virtuoso valentines with “lyrical expressionist” surfaces. His stated intention was to exorcise emotion through paint, but the paint looks inexpressively calculated—drips, waxy patches, and occasional combine elements (a C-clamp on one heart) seem heavy-handed attempts to cut the sugar and toughen the compositions. Color schemes are coded to predetermined moods, and the paintings have titles like The Greys of Spring (pretty; grays and pinks with green), The March Painting (earthier; browns, yellows, green), and A German Blackness (ominous; mostly black and red; simultaneously suggesting a response on Dine’s part to expressionism at large and a rather circumspect judgment on history). These single-image “landscapes of the heart” constitute a failure of terms: the underlying shape glibly ingratiates while the clunking ingenuousness of the layers of paint and reference make you think that Dine is just trying to have it both ways by pleasing everyone.

The multiple-heart pictures have a stronger beat. Dine gains authority and some genuine charm when he allows for narrative association. Two Crusts (two hearts, two panels divided by a strip of wood) is smaller and tight, and while its flinty texture unabashedly conjures Jasper Johns’ early work, it has a sanguine edginess, especially if you keep the title in mind. The big heart-and-a-half of Painting a Fortress for the Heart suggests a filmlike continuity and the sweet-and-sour urbanity of Max Ophuls’ La Ronde.

Dine’s new subject, the beaux-arts “gate of Crommelynck” (Crommelynck is Dine’s Paris printer) is featured in a four-panel allegory called Painting (Cruising) (La Chasse), whose sequence is punctuated by a hammer wedged between two of the panels and the surrealistic touch of a mannequin’s hand clutching the edge of one. The individual images, however—a Star of David, an amorphous tree, a heart, and the gate—look dreamily placid. Intended drama is muffled by pervasive, overly deliberated moodiness—and the mood here is that of a Parisian fog: enervated Marc Chagall brushstrokes, a vaporous, perfume-y texture, lots of l’heure bleu blue. The piece is nothing more and nothing less than atmospheric. Dine has resolutely settled into painting fireside chats which, if momentarily reassuring, cannot convince.

Lisa Liebmann