New York

Markus Lüpertz

Mary Boone Gallery | Uptown

These 26 paintings on canvas by Markus Lüpertz constitute a kind of mini-retrospective, including works from 1970, 1976, 1980, 1981, and 1984. Though Lüpertz is inevitably associated with the current German neo-Expressionists, his case is not that simple. His post-Modernist, trans-avantgardist gestures show an art-historical subtlety beyond the stronger and more directly expressionistic work of, say, Georg Baselitz. The series “Alice im Wunderland,” 1981, of which 12 pieces were exhibited here, contains overt references to classical Cubism in the shape and size of the canvases as well as in their palette and many of their internal forms and relationships. They have the antique and beautiful air of classic Modernism, but while familiar looking, they are not direct quotations. The Cubist gestures are blended with biomorphic surrealist allusions which soften them and give them a cartoonlike simplicity. The works hang beautifully together; with their comparative smallness in today’s context, and their tendency toward the semblance of symbolism without its actuality, they suggest a kind of mute but deeply suggestive tarot which, one feels, it may or may not be possible to learn to read. Still, their seriality is not considered essential; they are to be sold separately.

Pride of place in this installation was given to another series, “Pierrot Lunaire,” 1984. These six rather large paintings on cardboard, a surface that lends itself to quick sketching, are loosely drawn and combine a variety of historical gestures or motifs, including expressionist dripping, Cubism (in the profile of a clown head), and finally the post-Modern love affair with a simultaneity of surface and depth, obvious materiality and representation—features which in the classic Modernist period did not usually coexist in paintings considered successful. Lüpertz offers a brilliant, quasi-cinematic illustration of the relationship. The way the painted object, a chair, progressively gains dimensionality as it rises out of the flat design of the blue and black primary elements is like a progressive religious revelation of the birth of illusion. In fact, two kinds of representation are involved here, for the conventions of so-called realistic representation, that is, representation of what we call three-dimensional objects, are in fact no more representational than the schematic/metaphoric representation of nonparticular qualities or abstractions that takes place on the flat space of the surface. Lüpertz’s series, as hung in this exhibition, shows a progress from one kind of space to another by ragged, irregular stages or shifts of angle. A kind of Eadweard Muybridgean expressionism emerges. The seriality of these pieces makes one question the appropriateness of selling them separately; their meaning as separate works in collections will depend to some extent upon memory of this and other occasions when they were exhibited together.

Thomas McEvilley