Donna Moylan

Studio Planita

Donna Moylan’s new work is characterized by extreme pretentiousness and a lack of substance. Only a few months ago she showed a series of paintings based on an elementary figuration—a man/tree dualism—that had the potential for developing into a structured abstraction. But this was hastily discarded. Moylan’s figurative dualism has since found resolution in banal formalism. The recent works consist of cut-out geographical maps juxtaposed against broad-brushed backgrounds of the same color. The color’s tones are appealing, but the artist’s light touch is too often inconsistent. The result is an incomprehensible dialogue between incongruous surfaces.

Il Pilota e la santa (The pilot and the saint, 1985), the painting that opened this show, exemplified how a weak beginning can lower the esthetic level of an entire exhibition. Two black figurines borrowed from Francesco Clemente float against a formally, weak, badly painted Hans Hoffman-esque background. These figures don’t succeed in establishing their identity as protagonists and are lost in the vagueness of the painting’s contents. Its scattered secondary images include a boy in short pants holding a bird with a fish in its mouth—what does this image have to do with the small black fetus suspended in the void near the opposite edge of the painting?

The installation attempted in the second room of the gallery to establish either a connection or a contrast among the subjects, the techniques, and even the coloration of Moylan’s paintings. The triptych formed by Mondo (World, 1985), La Mappa (The map, 1985), and Breakfast, 1985, plays with the stridency of the juxtaposed colors—blue, acid yellow, brown, black—while the formal derivations vary from Clemente to David Salle to David Wojnarowicz. In Tibet, 1985, the cut-and-pasted geographical maps border on the ridiculous; the disconnected forms float on the surface, lost in a muddle of color and without any relationship to the cluttered background.

Moylan seeks a wide-ranging vocabulary of forms and tries out more than one expressive solution—perhaps too many She borrows a wealth of shamelessly obvious “á la mode” references and mixes them into flat, never explosive cocktails. She never gets the proportion of the ingredients right, and the result is insipid.

The only painting with an express relationship among its elements was Continenti (Continents, 1985), in which there is a careful structural balance between the frayed forms and the magmatic background. The “continents” seem to slide along a fluid impasto, to break up and drift off in search of anchorage. In the end, however, the painting that seemed most interesting was Desire in Naples, 1984, the only piece from the artist’s earlier body’ of work. The perspectival views of an imaginary Gulf of Naples are truly without precedent, a Mediterranean world filtered through a distorted, Orientalist viewpoint; it is pure invention, and it is greatly effective.

I don’t understand why Moylan has chosen to follow such a derivative route, instead of insisting on carving out her own territory. Does she perhaps believe that visual references to the American neo-Expressionist painting that is riding the crest of today’s wave can make her into a painter on the crest of tomorrow’s wave? But one needs to do more than just quote. In Moylan’s case there is a need for deeper research, a shaking-off of all nonoriginal elements, which could result in a personal, unequivocal structure. In her paintings one notices not priorities but rather a cynical indifference to form and style. For now, these works are only symptomatic of Moylan’s artistic immaturity It remains to be seen if they will come of age.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.