New York

David Hockney

Andre Emmerich Gallery

When I first saw this show I thought David Hockney was going more Cubist. I also thought how much his art would be envied by most of the up-and-comings in lower Manhattan; it has everything it is right to have and more. The work is expressively formed, ultracool, wild but pretty, historically prepped. If these paintings were hung down in funky town and signed by an up-and-coming, they would be a sensation. But although they are sensational, they seem less than a sensation because Hockney is a known. Known is out.

After I saw the show someone told me that the Times had said that Hockney had gone Cubist. The next day I realized that he had not gone Cubist; that these paintings were not Cubist but about Cubist.

Hockney has written, “Surely it’s no accident that within a few years of the popularizing of photography, Cubism was invented.” He believes that Picasso and Braque discovered the flaw in painting, the gap between the time it takes to paint something and the time it takes to look at the painting, through the similar but more obvious disparity in photography. The photo was not a look but a glance.

For the last few years Hockney has been making photo collages of a Cubist sort, reinvesting time in the photograph. Two in this show, The Desk, July 1, 1984, and Nude, 17th June, 1984, are both about time. The desk is a place where time is spent; the nude is an image over which time is spent. The blonde woman licking her lips, legs spread over a satin sheet, is the kind of photographic image that many linger over. Hockney puts the lingering into the creation of the image, shattering the operative illusion by illustrating it.

In Peter Langan, 1984, eight canvases each depict a detail of a figure, arranged in approximation of normal perspective but out of kilter and with gaps. The single canvas representing the face is Cubist in itself where the others are Cubist only in context. A second black and white partial profile is mounted next to the main face. There’s a double dislocation/relocation here, and a balancing act between the cute and the grotesque. This is the Cubism of the double take.

In Gregory Sleeping, 1984, the main canvas is a sketch of a room, just the basic linear facts of a correct, pleasant perspective. Hung on this canvas are four smaller canvases: a face, a close-up of a face in pink, an arm and shirt, and a plain white that must be a shirt close up. Each canvas is a look, and color, where it appears, reveals an emotional spectrum.

Two pieces are especially pretty: Backyard, Echo Park, 1984, and A Visit With Mo & Lisa, Echo Park, Los Angeles, 1984. The wild, decorator perspective of a gouache-painted patio rearranges the facts for amusing simplification. Palm trees balance telephone poles. Pink trees hold up the white clouds and blue sky. These works are Cubist in a way, but their logic is an equation of time, color, and perspective that is mysteriously orderly. Human figures, some objects, and even parts of the sky are conspicuous by their white absence, but they do not detract from the view.

A Visit With Christopher and Don, Santa Monica Canyon, 1984, is the largest work in the show, extending 20 feet over two canvases. It is also the most complex and the most exuberant. It is crazy-quilt Cubism, it is cartoon, and the height of pop abstraction. Hockney’s eyeball logic is unassailable. His composition never stops moving. His colors in collision are joyous and stirring. Here is a very occupied calm, a kind of activist tranquillity.

Glenn O’Brien