New York

Troels Wörsel

Brooke Alexander Gallery

The paintings of Troels Wörsel, a Danish artist living in Cologne, run a very mild-mannered rhetorical range yet convey a peculiar quality of remote pain, a pain both remotely inflicted and remotely sustained. On single canvases, on diptychs and triptychs, Wörsel places abstract fields or patterns. He does so coolly, almost distractedly, sometimes adding some offhand scrap of representation, or perhaps a discreet object such as a doorknob. His palette, until recently black, white, and gray, now includes archetypally acrylic hues of orange and green—the first colors to recede in color blindness.

These quiet maneuvers numb the suffering, which is primarily Wörsel’s. He seems to develop his working method in much the way a bookkeeper maintains a ledger, by juggling restraints, and each of the succinct, self-effacing paintings shown here was in fact a veiled miasma of cultural dictates, debts, and voided checks. It is as though Wörsel were humiliated by all that has been robust in Modern art, yet contemptuous of its lighter models. Abstraction and representation coexist in these pieces as mutually rejecting tissues, which Wörsel tries to assuage through various little displays of insouciance. In one painting pale grays are shoved about to form a crosshatch pattern that suggests Jasper Johns, and in the next this rhythm is adjusted to suit the tone of current sarcasms and becomes a tartan plaid, with the outline of a bottle, in one half of a diptych whose other panel features a puddle of orange labeled “orange.” The sense of estrangement that one obtains from these and other pieces is vast, and it is likely to induce in the viewer a kind of high-minded sympathy. Wörsel strikes me as a 20th Century Art employee in need of a brief vacation.

Lisa Liebmann