New York

“Other Views”

Semaphore Gallery

The intellectual distance between the questions “what to paint” and “how to paint it” is not great, and neither is the intervening terrain of much interest, but it was precisely here—a part-conceptual, part-stylistic netherworld—that most of the younger artists in this group of heterogeneous landscape painters chose to locate their work. Predictably, the results were something other than fully engaging, although more of interest than yet another “psychotic-figure” show might have been. The lingering influence of conceptual art is a little-acknowledged, widely evidenced reality in today’s painting, both in the generation of painters who grew up during the ’70s and among those more recently emergent. By age, Michael Zwack seems to fall midway between these two camps. Represented by two pictures, both entitled History of the World, both 1983, Zwack seemed far and away the most accomplished of those artists here, mostly the younger of the lot, who cultivated irony in their formats. His photograph-simulating, fin-de-siècle, pointillist scenes—the larger of a woodland panorama, the smaller of an isolated section of the upper branches of a tree—successfully infuse the stupefying historicism inherent to landscape genre with a treatment cognizant of the impossibility of portraying anything.

To a lesser degree, Gregg Smith (in the mock Post-Impressionist Woods, 1983) and Michael Ross (in his two-panel, fluorescently Gauguinesque phantasm Paradise Orange, 1983) succeed for comparable reasons. In its simplicity, not to say simplemindedness, Smith’s smaller crayon drawing impedes any further understanding of his work. Faced with Ross’ smaller, more strictly representational Corporate Vacation, 1983, however, showing a glass-sheathed headquarters building and/or mechanized recreational site, his restraint suggests an idea sufficiently communicative in itself to obviate the histrionics of the Dayglo imaginary scene. Which kind of painting is closer to his core remains unclear. Two of the other young painters here, Duncan Hannah and April Gornik, enter the cul-de-sac, an inescapably technical one, that has engulfed such otherwise disparate artists as Alfred Leslie and Neil Jenney: namely, that perfecting illusory depiction is an ultimately self-defeating atavism. In a miniaturized manner that obviously owes a good deal to Jenney, Mark Innerst’s tiny (12 by 24 inches) enigmatic Reservoir, 1982, addresses related issues with eloquence. I would like to impute as much to Thomas Lawson’s work, but he appears to have abandoned rehashing illustrations of sensationalist tabloids for a more esthetic (if that is what can be made from the erratically dispersed troweled- or knifed-on paint across bleakly rendered architectural grounds) rehashing of German-literature titles, such as Alexanderplatz, 1983, or Magic Mountain: Sudden Enlightenment, 1983.

As for Komar and Melamid’s realist View of the Kremlin in a Romantic Landscape, 1981–82, it is another full-blown embodiment of their clever dialectics, a cheery greeting card of politically repressive symbology. Those crazy émigrés! Ed Ruscha’s long global-horizon-line painting Three Murders, 1981, sat somewhat isolated, old-fashioned in its cool, self-contained irony. The incidents’ locales are demarcated by precise vertical lines and the words “murder,” “murder,” “murder,” in an otherwise ethereally luminist reverie. In many ways this was the only painting that fulfilled the promise of the show’s title; from an imagined vantage point far beyond the planet, Ruscha put the final words to the triviality of it all.

Richard Armstrong