New York

Philip Taaffe

Pat Hearn Gallery

Start with the fact that not all of Philip Taaffe’s paintings reach for special effects. Many are decidedly not optical illusions, although most are illusionistic. Aside from a desire to contradict Barnett Newman, why does Taaffe choose ropes to replace his zips? The spiraling construction of the ropes guarantees depth, unseating Newman’s insistence on the flatness of space and the linearity of time. But then, there are canvases here that don’t give a hang about depth.

In 1908 a researcher named J. Fraser presented the “twisted cord illusions,” so called because one “can construct these [trompe l’oeil] patterns using a cord of a twist of dark and light strands on a checkered pattern.” A shifting checkerboard is itself the basis for an other optical illusion called the kindergarten effect, where a rectilinear image appears to taper toward the top; when carried through, parallel vertical

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