New York

Will Mentor

Wolff Gallery

Will Mentor’s “The Eight Spheres of Yoga,” 1985, consists of seven paintings, all distinctly quotational in mode. At the center of each is a classically Surrealist bonelike shape with a central hole allowing a view of various things in an illusionistic space beyond. Other shapes—like partly furled cloths, or folded papers—spread out from these centers with intricate, sometimes paradoxical overlaps. Within these shapes one catches glimpses of further illusionistic spaces, as in the work of René Magritte, and somewhat like the chroma-key effect in video. Most commonly, the background revealed through the shapes is a Magrittean sky, though in some a garden scene or an ocean peeks through, and in others a textured gray zone forms a kind of metaphysical ground. The paintings are surrounded by ornate gilt frames suggesting an earlier age.

Why is quotational painting the dominant mode in Lower East Side galleries while SoHo remains more involved with the concern for originality? Partly, one suspects, because of the extreme youth of many Lower East Side artists, some of whom have gotten out of art school just lately. An obviously quotational style is easier to develop than an original style which mandates that the artist transform and alter—hide, in a sense—influences and models. Sometimes a quotational oeuvre involves great wit or passion in its conception, but quotational work that is merely decorative breaches the premise of the genre, which is not simply a matter of remaking visual points made by works of the past. Still, there is something to be said for recombining visual effects from the past to reawaken or sharpen appreciation of them through a new focus. Perhaps this is why one enjoys these paintings and yet remains skeptical of one’s enjoyment. They seem to be more about a borrowed decorative attractiveness than about the critical use of quotations.

Thomas McEvilley