New York

Ira Richer

Annina Nosei Gallery

But for Richard Artschwager’s cozy Formica monuments to enigma, veneers and simulated veneers have had little play in recent art. This is curious, not only because they are among the most ubiquitous and forthright of contemporary materials, but also since photographically imprinted laminates so succinctly embody questions of illusionism central to Modern art. What device evokes such questions better than that of a plastic-coated reproduction of wood layered over real wood? As all but one of this show’s eight large constructions from 1983 in this genre showed, Ira Richer understands the inherent possibilities of the media, and a good deal more about picture-making. Similarities of scale and a taste for constructed paintings recall Donald Sultan’s work, but whereas Sultan’s style can be thought of as an aggregation of drawing techniques in search of the pictorial, Richer’s veneer-covered objects come off as pictorial devices in search of drawing. Sultan conjoins drawn or real edges to make the picture plane; Richer, in a variety of ways, draws to violate the a priori picture on the plane.

The weak piece here, Doug’s Diary, falters because of its overly literal depiction of illusion: a folding wooden peg rack, with two Arm & Hammer logos affixed and partly painted over just above it, is tacked onto a dark painted field. This kind of collage of real objects and sensibility is a widespread affliction—tiny tears of taste dropped over varying quantities of detritus, adding up to so much fussed-over junk. But Richer’s other literal incorporations of real with artificial profit by his reversal and confounding of values.

In Vignette two round wood pieces, carved and painted to resemble primitive eye talismans, are suspended in front of a long rectangular framed plane, frame and ground both covered in a patchwork of laminated bird illustrations à l’Audubon. Such illustrations figure prominently in the best of the work: Solstice, for example, has a scene of flying game birds in autumnal scenery pieced together to form a grid. Toward the bottom of the rectangle two stacked white diamond shapes establish a more immediate picture plane, one also occupied by a red V-shape above the white. A large part of the left side of the rectangle has been routed out to the underlying wood in an elaborate, linear, abstract drawing.

Large Shield and Tablet, both shaped somewhat like a leaf and stem and both propped against a wall, share this gouged-out linear drawing. The demonstrable layers of meaning that the exposure of the wood under the plastic comprises are further complicated in Tablet, in which negative spaces in the drawing have been cut away to show the real depth of a central portion of the piece.

Besides scraping away the wood and plastic laminate, Richer also applies paint to it in mostly expressionist daubs that amplify the thin bas-relief of the incised lines. Again, this real defacement configures to establish an abstract, illusionist field atop the realist illusions of the patterned laminates. In Cradle a Western-motif veneer has been painted over and mostly obscured, showing only bits of the underlying landscape tableaux—a wishing well here, a wagon and barn there. Also left uncovered are two “knots” in the simulated wood grain that is interspersed with the scenery. Four gouged-out yellow dots run down the center of the picture, while its irregular edges are covered with marbleized Formica. The relatively small Island, 48 by 54 inches, brings all these concerns together. A shallow frame of plastic in a simulated wood burl pattern surrounds the image of the torso of a pregnant woman in profile. This portrait in veneer has been covered over with roughly parallel marks of white paint; next to it floats a thin oval of dark wood Formica, giving onto a field of white and black dots and dashes painted on more gouged-out wood. Figuration, abstraction, and expressionism are made to coexist within a trompe l’oeil geometry.

Richard Armstrong