New York

Eric Fischl

Mary Boone Gallery | Chelsea

For those of us who have come to expect a daringly inventive, anxiety-riddled realism from Eric Fischl, this exhibition was a huge disappointment. Despite Robert Rosenblum’s name-scattering attempt to invoke historical precedents in the catalogue essay, the paintings conclusively proved that we need to wait a while longer for the second coming of Manet. Gone are Fischl’s disquiet ing observations of ordinary behavior, and the disturbing eroticism and resonant emotional power emanating from his choice and placement of familiar objects. Rather than continuing to discover an excruciatingly accurate psychological biography of our collective guilt and embarrassment, Fischl has become content to recycle diluted versions of his earlier work.

In Vanity, 1984, a nude woman, sitting spread-legged on a lawn, holds a mirror in front of her face. In the background is a field, some trees, a glassed-in porch, and a barnlike structure. Fischl uses these details to invoke a realm of bourgeois stability, but he does not question or examine them or what they symbolize. They are merely props; there is nothing inevitable about their presence. Again, the figure on the lawn is a prurient version of a pure 19th-century academic (male) image—a woman gazing idly into a mirror. Once again, Fischl doesn’t feel the least bit compelled to confront the image’s authenticity. Rather than disrupting our expectations, or setting a disturbing narrative in motion, he gives us just another realist version of suburban idleness. True, the woman’s self-absorption implies bourgeois complacency, but in a way that’s far too familiar and all too brittle. Compare this woman with the self-absorbed anxiety of the skinny adolescent in Sleepwalker, 1979, and one sees how far Fischl has lowered his sights.

In the diptych Mother and Daughter, 1984, Fischl once again deploys his suburban props without examining them. In the left panel a nude woman lounges on the lawn, reading a magazine. In the right panel another nude kneels while adjusting her panties; behind her a dog is flopped rather comfortably on an air mattress, like some aging lover. The two panels don’t sufficiently disrupt each other, or generate enough friction, to make the viewer wonder about any possible narrative. The woman-and-dog motif is also picked up in Master Bedroom, 1983, in which a panty-clad woman in curlers clutches a black Labrador. There is something corny and condescending about both Master Bedroom and the right panel of Mother and Daughter. Rather than stitching together Freud and pornography, Fischl coyly situates these paintings somewhere between the National Lampoon and the National Enquirer. He thinks it’s enough to tease the viewer.

The recent paintings hold little that is dramatic, and the figures—particularly in Sisters, 1983—look about as alive as mannequins. Numbness and somnambulism have replaced sensitivity and acuity. If we compare the glass of iced tea in Daddy’s Girl, 1984, the cigarette in Master Bedroom, and the toy airplane in Noon Watch, 1983, to the empty chairs in Sleepwalker or the bowl of fruit and pocketbook in Bad Boy, 1981, we get the sense that Fischl is coasting. It’s too bad. Fischl is not yet 40, and is being touted by some as a genius. But geniuses must earn their praise.

John Yau