New York

Miriam Schapiro

Gladstone Gallery | West 21st St

Miriam Schapiro continues to do what she probably does best—pattern painting. The works here reveal a strikingly sharp and specific vision, able to exploit the dynamic potential of the shape on which the artist has recently focused—the rectangle—with skill and sensitivity. Though best known for shaped paintings (numerous past examples are based on various house and fan configurations), Schapiro manages to play some exciting visual games with the rectangle. Not only do her compositions bring out the elegant order and regularity associated with its framing function, but they make it enclose and structure explosive compositions which override its static character.

The paintings/fabric collages in the “Presentation” series boast a frame-in-frame structure which brings to mind a proscenium stage. The reading of theatrical associations is especially encouraged in Presentation for Goncharova, 1982, a work whose lively composition recalls the hot colors, scalloped or distended shapes, and interlocking compositions found in the avant-garde stage sets and theatrical curtains that Natalia Goncharova designed for the Ballets Russes in the ’20s.

Schapiro’s mastery of the visual complexity of her compositions is best shown in the large examples in mural scale. Presentation, 1982, is a riotous array of curved and angled patterns held together not by fancy stitching but by acute brushwork. Chiffonlike fabrics are combined with painted passages executed either directly on the canvas or over more applied cloth. Organized into three main sections—two borders containing various zigzag, stripe, and floral patterns encase an allover section of irregular-shaped fragments of geometric patterns and floral motifs—the composition creates the vivid illusion of an organic and flat pictorial surface. While there is much movement on the surface there is little depth. Schapiro’s control of a rainbow of colors, ranging from black and gold to red, orange, blue, and purple, is particularly appealing. The same can be said of her trompe l’oeil application of paint, which makes it difficult to tell the acrylic from the fabric. The show demonstrates that Schapiro’s recent work is much in tune with the bold clarity found in much of today’s non-Expressionist abstract art.

Ronny H. Cohen