New York

Ilya Bolotowsky

An avowed Neo-Plasticist, Ilya Bolotowsky has not simply assimilated his sources but transcended them. If, as Marcelin Pleynet has argued, Piet Mondrian moved toward the disappearance of the picture into the architecture that “sustains” it (however assumed and unnoticed), then Bolotowsky moves toward its embodiment as purified, “clarified” architecture. Although Mondrian wanted to reduce the picture to a vibrant sign of elementary space by following an architectural model, presumably rooting out the connotations of the human condition that might be lurking in it, he did so in order to express such intangibles as spirit, generated through the dynamism of his compositions and the sublimity of their space. In the insecure equilibrium that results from Mondrian’s attempt to balance opposing elements, coordinates seem to twitch, and space contracts and expands spastically, unstably. He seems often to open the borders of the picture plane by extending the coordinates beyond the edge of the canvas. In the mature Bolotowsky, the coordinates are more decisively equilibrated, anchored so as to stabilize the space and make it finite. No longer subtly immeasurable like Mondrian’s, Bolotowsky’s pictures shut out the spectator who might be subliminally tempted to enter and “participate,” through his or her awe, in its architecture.

The point is made by comparing Architectural Counterpoint, 1950, an early Bolotowsky that has not yet “overcome” Mondrian, with Abstraction in 3 Reds, 1980. In the earlier work, the jittery, fragmented coordinates of primary colors and noncolors (white, gray, and some black), imply an infinity of space within the composition, luring us into empathic intimacy. In the later work, the “dynamic” in the “dynamic equilibrium” seems fundamentally changed. A magisterial stasis emerges from the “play” of the deterministic elements of form, and indeed, there is less play—less apparent loosening of deterministic structure (crucial to the effect of sublimity)—than in the former. As in Vertical Blue, 1976, and Blue Square with Red, Black and White, 1980, there is a new breadth of handling and grandeur of effect, the result of a push to simplicity that never leads to closure in an unsubtle, simplistic structure. Nonetheless, tension has been brought under the control of balance, whereas in the 1950 work, more directly inspired by Mondrian, tension seems more important than balance. The same point can be made by comparing Ionic Diamond, 1951, and Untitled (Neoplastic Diamond with Primary Colors), 1981. However, this is not to imply that in all of Bolotowsky’s later work the Neo-Plastic play between the poles of determinate—even predetermined—balance and the effect of indeterminacy generated by tension is always so reduced.

The sculpture Column 9a, 1981–84, is a special achievement, a true tour de force. The variable thickness of the color bands, which sometimes become square color blocks, is more suspenseful than in the paintings, by reason of the unpredictability of what one will see as one moves around this free-standing column. While each side is elegantly balanced, the work as a whole creates a tension almost to the point of dizzying unbalance. Bolotowsky has united beauty, the mathematical sublime (achieved by the “disproportion” between vertical and horizontal on each side), and the dynamic sublime (generated by the movement from side to side). Such rare, unsurpassable comprehensiveness and synthesis solves the problem of the paradox of “dynamic equilibrium” without resorting to a resolution that sacrifices one or another of its elements.

Donald Kuspit