New York

Ross Bleckner

Mary Boone Gallery

For all their air of spiritual brooding, these paintings seem rather weak-willed after what I’ve been looking at lately. The Nazi black—properly brazen in Troy Brauntuch’s work—fades into a dusky white; many of the works are deliberately mired in between, caught in a quicksand of refined tonality. The work as a whole is subtle and timid, suggesting a castrated James McNeill Whistler-like sensibility. Bleckner uses a kind of stippling technique to freshly articulate surface/depth tension, an effect enhanced by the trend toward monochromicity in his paintings. The same technique is used to articulate an abstraction/illusion tension, the stippling working as a double formalist entendre. The small-scale works hold up well, for the means conform to the fashionable. Bleckner reveals all the dumbness of “smart,” “fine” art. His work is evidence for what is increasingly clear: that “disinterested” art is the preserve of the privileged, proof of their power to neutralize all (unpleasant) content, creating the vacuum of meaning that is called esthetic pleasure. The presence of absence here reminds me of Friedrich Schiller’s observation about the “energy of character, at whose price esthetic culture is usually purchased.” Bleckner shows us the artificial, mincing obsessiveness of “committed” taste—good taste still a little wicked, but martyred by world-weariness.

Donald Kuspit