New York

Martin Disler

What I find extraordinary about Martin Disler’s paintings is the way they sustain themselves as pure libido over enormous stretches of space—as though the space would run out before his libido did. The overtly erotic figures that emerge in many of the pictures, perhaps most conspicuously in Garden of Desire, 1986, appear incidental to the flow of paint, which seems not simply to overcome obstacles but to dissolve them, converting them into the knots and densities of its own substance. Disler seems to have arrived at that magical moment when representation does not know its own name, the moment Freud spoke of, when instinct takes the form of an image but is not yet banished into its form or abolished by it.

These paintings are not so much about the production of images as about the monumentalization of desire. Disler drags us into his desire, breaking down the “natural” distance between viewer and work. Indeed, one is not allowed to view these works—to find a comfortable distance from which they can disclose themselves—but instead is thrust in the midst of the “action.”

This destruction of distance also undermines the work as scene, as “picture.” In In Between, 1986, the viewer is placed between the two parts of the work—each 23 feet long—which confront each other from opposite walls. The one part is roseate and light in tone, the other gray black and gloomy Here the hopeful confronts the pessimistic in an implicit psychomachia, with ourselves in the middle; it is our own decisiveness or irresolution that determines the outcome. Yet the choice remains eternal—these are religious paintings, both in their eschatologizing of impulse and in the way they implicate the viewer’s own “lyricism?’ They suggest a struggle for the soul of the viewer’s impulse, his or her irrepressible and irreducible drivenness of being, as well as for the survival of impulse as such.

In this age of mechanical reproduction, it is hard to achieve genuine impulse, and twice as hard to trust it‚—let alone to know what it is. The mechanists of artmaking tell us that expressive gesture—especially when it is as confident as Disler’s—is fraudulent in its pursuit of immediacy, as though their own manipulative approach were truer to the times and not subject to the contradictory condition of art (in the sense that it both reflects and resists the world). But impulse, as Disler’s work suggests, is articulated not in the name of sensation, but as a means to ego strength. To regress to raw libido—to accept the inevitability and ambivalence of desire—is to gather the strength to resist an overly objectified world, to find the perspective from which to criticize the mind’s tendency to reify There is a relentless criticality in Disler’s art of desire, as in the best art that takes impulse as the immanent whole of the art experience. In our rigidly typical world, Disler’s theatrical recovery of libido reminds us of how atypical what is most innate seems.

Donald Kuspit