New York

Niele Toroni

Mary Boone Gallery | Uptown

In his first one-person show in New York in more than ten years, Niele Toroni followed the same format and mode of application that have characterized this France-based painter’s practice for two decades. In each of the show’s three works, near-identical marks of a paint-soaked brush were deposited on wall or canvas at regular intervals to comprise uniform configurations of rectilinear colored dots. The title of the show (which also describes Toroni’s method of production) summed up the effect achieved: Empreintes de pinceau no. 50 répétées à intervalles réguliers de 30 centimètres (Marks of a number 50 paintbrush repeated at regular intervals of 30 centimeters). Here, as in other works, the sole variables were provided by the features of the exhibition space and by color. Thus, one work painted directly on the wall near the gallery entrance consisted of 314 red marks, forming a square scaled to the height of the wall. In another, 186 black marks were applied so as to articulate the frame of the door connecting an adjoining room to the gallery office. In the third work, a suite of ten tableaux, each painted a different color and aligned at regular intervals from one another, formed a row of canvases stretching the length of the longest gallery wall.

Toroni’s focus in these and other works is on the serial repetition of an identical term produced through the most mechanical pictorial means possible—through the detached, “neutral;’ factual deposition of paint according to a predetermined metric grid. By reducing his practice to a set of materials and processes—i.e., support, brush, paint, application, and interval—Toroni constructs a minimal definition of painting; similarly, because the format of each work is determined by the exhibition space, each work can be seen as specific to, or inscribed within, the conditions that give it visibility. In this manner Toroni displays his allegiance to that branch of late ’60s art practice that sought to demystify painting, erode the autonomy of the object, and reveal the idealist premises couched within the notion of “expression” For this reason, the most interesting work in the show was the series of discrete canvases that, because of its length, appeared to be conceived in situ but, because panels could be added or deleted, seemed to demonstrate the transportability, or transferability, characteristic of the modern work of art. Everything about these paintings, from the nailheads that affix canvas to stretchers, to the standardized palette extending from red to green to blue, to Toroni’s blunt, unsentimental brushstrokes, points to the material limits that circumscribe artistic production. And with this focus goes another axiom: any projection of values, feelings, or expression on this work must be the activity of the spectator.

Given his commitment to contextualist premises, it is not surprising that Toroni’s work should bind to its historical context, that is, to the moment in late-’60s France when he exhibited with Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, and Michel Parmentier under the group name BMPT. Like Buren, Toroni has maintained his allegiance to a materialist practice, so the question arises as to why his art should be revived in New York now, after a lengthy interval, during a period marked by the resurgence of idealist esthetic principles. My sense is that Toroni’s art is being employed, much like Mosset’s, to construct and legitimate a tradition for the new brand of painting, currently widely in evidence in galleries, that claims to simulate or parody abstraction. The relation is wholly incorrect, for Toroni’s works are not “signs” for paintings, but serious and concisely articulated expositions of the codes and material propositions that permit painting to exist as a practice at all.

Kate Linker