New York

Friedel Dzubas

Knoedler Gallery

Friedel Dzubas, a so-called “Abstract Impressionist,” is an old master, not a new one. He gives us a surface of dense or dissipating color, a surface in which color is analytically in separate areas and is examined for its own beautiful sake, or in which it synthesizes, through nuance, with other color with which it has affinity. There is an evasive, touch-and-go look here which belies the monumentality of such canvases as Argonaut and A Day Passing, both 1982—a sense of sovereign yet delicate fluidity, never in crisis yet peculiarly unpredictable and indeterminate. There are no tricks of surface like those of Poons and Boxer; this is a different kind of virtuosity, one which exists not in response to the crisis of surface but which uses tried and true methods of surface articulation to realize a sensibility seemingly given beforehand. There is none of the glamour of Poons and Boxer, only a sense of the romance of color interaction based on color logic. Poons and Boxer know that logic, too, but they seem at once to defy it and to exploit it, to search out its murkiest possibilities; Dzubas trusts a known intensity, and working within its confines gives us a sense of movement without any “play” in it—achieves a slow burn where they want a fast fix, however much that might break down into a number of uneven highs.

Dzubas reasserts the grand manner of traditional color field painting, while in the best of the works giving us a new awareness of how far the field can be fragmented into disparate areas of color without losing its unity. There is an implicit naturalistic ideal of the organic unity of the field in this; Poons and Boxer know the field is an invention—a visual construct one can manipulate for astonishing effects. Dzubas puts us in awe of color, but he does not put it at a distance from us. He gives us neither Poons’ surge, which seems to show us the behind-the-scenes machinery that runs the surface, nor Boxer’s convoluted, almost hysterically excited unity. Instead, Dzubas is entirely upfront, in the most polite way. His colors have good manners as they engage in their subtle, old-world minuet; there is no frenzied, forced, pseudorebellious urgency here.

Paradoxically, this makes Dzubas’ art more decorative than that of Poons and Boxer. Their staginess suggests a self-consciousness that implies something more than the self-satisfied decorative. I think Dzubas’ work is very beautiful, but it does not speak to our condition as do their fitful images. Dzubas’ paintings accept their condition as surface instead of rebelling against it; Poons’ and Boxer’s paintings are a serious effort to defend the autonomy of the art object, which Dzubas takes for granted. He does not raise the question of whether the idea of the autonomous object is confined to an interlude in the history of art, rather than being the essence of art. Poons and Boxer, on the other hand, try to wrestle that question to a standstill, reasserting autonomy as an idea that can still affect what we expect from art, even though it can no longer generate such visual utopias as Dzubas gives us.

Donald Kuspit