Chicago

Art Kleinman

Randolph Street Gallery

The traffic in irony is heavy today, and the gridlock of “simulationism” threatens to block the way of those artists pursuing strategies of abstraction that are neither ironic nor parodic. Art Kleinman’s complex and colorfully geometric works recall, to a certain degree, the technocratic surrogate abstractions of Ashley Bickerton, Jack Goldstein, or Peter Halley. Yet Kleinman’s interest in the appearance of projective and recessive space, as developed through the schematic interlocking of variously colored modules, distances him from the critique of representation that informs the works of others.

How is Kleinman’s distinction achieved? The cryptographic shapes that coalesce within his paintings and drawings share with those in Bicker-ton’s work a superficial resemblance to the characters of video games or the cybernetic devices of the 1982 film Tron. like Goldstein, Kleinman uses a broad, garishly artificial palette. And the figure/space matrices in his work evoke Halley’s lexicon of cells and conduits. But the shapes in Kleinman’s art are not simply referential. The layered modulations in Divided by Four #1, 1985, are full of spatial vitality. The eye’s sweep across its surface is constantly interrupted by incidents of chromatic interplay, a push-pull accentuated by the varying directions of the stripes within the two principal geometric “figures” as well as by the brushwork applied within each color area.

Divided by Four #2, 1985, displays a similar manic intricacy. On either side of the 84-by-84-inch canvas, two complex, gray-blue polygonic figures, overlaid with a grid pattern, take on an even more humanoid appearance than the equivalent shapes in Divided by Four #1. They seem to be guardians of a building whose architecture is suggested by the combination of predominantly pink, rust, orange, and yellow shapes that frame an area of receding blue, pale green, and various shades of purple. This “doorway” is further articulated by a vivid red-orange line that zips along its edges. Above the lintel thus created, a row of blue, green, and purple polygons assumes the identity of a frieze of contorted dancers. None of this is overtly represented, merely alluded to through an accumulation of coloristic and compositional devices.

Kleinman’s drawings, executed with colored tape and wax on graph paper, lack this allusive resonance. The preprinted grid locks them into a consistent but inert system, and the tape, which is used to outline shapes, deemphasizes figure/ground relationships in favor of an overall diagrammatic quality. But even here, Kleinman avoids the inherent exhaustion of the simulacrum, its constant tilting in the direction of a nonexistent “original.”

Kleinman’s interest in geometric abstraction is a longstanding one, carried through over a period of ten years. It’s clear that he still believes in the capability of abstract form to assert meaning. Kleinman’s work isn’t absorbed with self-conscious exhumation of dead symbols, and its energetic compositional dynamics show there are still signs of life in painting.

Buzz Spector