New York

Francesco Clemente

Mary Boone Gallery | Uptown

The ways in which Francesco Clemente is a post-Modernist painter include his widespread quoting; the awkward, unfinished look of some of his surfaces; his apparent overproduction; his work’s overt, if somewhat inchoate, content, much of it based on dream sources; and his cool display of versatility as he moves from one medium to another, one genre to another, and one style to another.

Some major works were included in this three-gallery show, beginning with the large untitled painting to the left of the entrance at the Castelli gallery. This picture seems to represent the Hindu monkey god Hanuman from the Indian epic poem the Ramayana; in helping Rama to regain his kidnapped wife, Sita, Hanuman leapt twice across the sea between India and Ceylon, the second time carrying a mountain in his hands.

Clemente’s relationship to Indian art brings up important questions. Clearly, in this picture, he is not simply illustrating a preexisting text. His genius as an image-maker derives from some radical sense of otherness dictating to his dream censor. Such images need not be explicable in a literary way; nevertheless, Clemente seems to make a literary allusion here, and the question remains of how much content is brought over with the allusion. As a cultural sign Hanuman represents the fealty of nature to the human spiritual quest, the upward-driving evolutionary force within nature, and the strength of animality present within humanity. Perhaps these should be recognized as common themes in Clemente’s work also.

India is one of the non-Western cultures whose imagery has not yet been mingled deeply with our art, and its turn may have come. Clemente is not the only contemporary Western artist working in part with Indian elements. He is introducing these images into his work sparingly and in a somewhat Westernized synthesis, blending smoothly Hindu iconography, personal dream images, and quasi-Freudian imagery used in a loosely philosophical way.

There were several other remarkable paintings at the three galleries. Many of the ink-and-watercolor drawings at the Boone gallery were superb little tours de force, clinging as lightly to the page as a whisper to the eardrum. The many minor works, however, like the row of small portraits along the back wall at Castelli, seemed out of place in such company This unevenness in the exhibited works raised the still-unanswered question of the criteria of quality for post-Modern artists.

Thomas McEvilley