New York

Jedd Garet

Robert Miller Gallery

Maybe Jedd Garet is putting together a hornbook for estheticians with this latest series of paintings, a handbook of the phenomenological and historical building blocks of picture making. If true, this is fascinating; if not true, little enough whets the appetite in these deliberately rigid works. Garet’s painting has always been graceless but usually has still carried a graphic punch. Not so at the moment, but then the dryness alone may be a sign, whose fallaciousness is for now beside the point, of “intellect at work.”

How else but as rubrics are we to take the isolation from canvas to canvas of pictorial motifs, technical “tricks,” line and mass? How else explain Garet’s taking his usual proscenium in Special Friend, 1984, and placing on it, as a character, a flurry of brushstrokes? This same inchoate swirl of strokes marks the boundary between his paintings’ illusionistic three-dimensional space and the view that the space borders, the second scene for which it makes a sort of burst-open efflorescent frame, so that the works present, as one title allows, Two Places At Once, 1984. This is the hole in space and time, the fourth dimension. There’s a lot of Magritte here, but no hint of linguistic puns, and Magritte was not concerned to suggest a tearing open of the surface of one space to reveal another. His incongruities simply coexisted; they were of the mind.

The yellow sky and sea that are the fourth-dimensional vignette in The Golden Point, 1984, show up again in a perfectly straightforward seascape called Yellow Ocean, 1984. Why is Yellow Ocean so straight? Possibly to show how the various elements of the other canvases can work as an ensemble—in other words, how the parts of speech,elsewhere scattered, combine to make a sentence. The weird green iceberg in the naturalistic work is made of the cubist rocks that signify “mass” in other paintings—one of those being Two, 1984, where it is matched in a diptych with some tree limbs which signify “line,” and, of course, “organic” as opposed to “inorganic.” The interaction of the biomorphic and geomorphic strands seems to be another primal weave: Garet’s “figures”—we can understand them as such on the basis of past performances—vacillate between the two. At this point we have worked our way into known icons, and before he’s done Garet points to known attitudes as well, using glyphs representing Classicism (a bust) and Romanticism (a bouquet).

Not surprisingly in one previously so interested in a narrative about genetic recombination, it’s the permutation that counts for Garet. Parts can be put together in a way that “makes sense,” like a seascape; that almost makes sense, as in Bathing Shape, 1984, an impossible but anthropomorphic form in a bucolic setting; or that will always be mysterious, such as the contrapuntal ineffables of The Conversation, 1984, a figure, a tree, night, day. What are the rules governing syntax? What rules of combination make one pictorial sentence coherent, another poetic, and a third incomprehensible?

Jeanne Silverthorne