New York

Gérard Garouste

Leo Castelli Gallery and Sperone Westwater Gallery

Gérard Garouste is a stylish, clever gambler. He knows the rules of current international outre-modernisme, and though he has little strategy he bluffs with rhetorical fluency. Garouste, who was initially involved with performance and set design, has only been making paintings for the last three or four years. He expends considerable energy on the task of faking technique, and his compensatory methods are essentially theatrical. Often, for instance, he will recoup an otherwise turgid passage by inserting or superimposing a bit of business—a flourish, a gesture, or an aside. As might be guessed, he is best suited to light comedy and romances, and the rococo mannerisms he adopts thus become him uniquely. The little varnished mythologies shown here last year during the “Statements: New York 82” presentation of French artists had the double charm of elegance and inconsequence: a little night music and a drowsy come-hither.

Garouste, however, returns now with 24 mostly large paintings and drawings sprawled throughout two large galleries. The installations were redundant, and the desired amplification actually reduced audibility to a drone—Garouste’s rhetorical skills are conversational, not oratorical. His stylistic posture recalls the work of Carlo Maria Mariani. Both articulate (opposing) 18th-century traditions, both are awkward or obvious in their use of paint, Mariani perhaps more so. Yet he is more compelling. His relationship to neoclassicism has a ritualized, self-stinting caste that makes the paintings, with their precise contours and acrid tones, physically startling. They look like bad reproductions because Mariani suppresses the aura of invention. He assumes the role of a living homage-machine, equating the contemporary condition with necrophilia. Garouste’s paintings are full of movement, and his formal recapitulations are far less slavish—they are in fact crammed with secondary inventions or conceits, some rather entertaining. He continues to punctuate with late-Baroque motifs, but his most recent large paintings include stage whispers about everyone from Nicolas Poussin to Sandro Chia. His drawings are less inflected, but equally congested. Garouste seems to be equating the contemporary condition with logorrhea.

Lisa Liebmann