New York

Robert Kushner

Holly Solomon Gallery

Robert Kushner has turned to hard bronze, seemingly moving far from the soft textiles that aided and abetted the intimate effect of his previous work. Precious transience–—the poignant effect of a fabulous flower in full bloom so characteristic of his fluid, relaxed figures–—seems to have been replaced by eternal durability. Does this signal a hardening of purpose, a didacticism of the decorative, a polemicizing of the charismatic figure? I think not. By creating what he calls “negative cutouts,” and by continuing to use abandoned materials (now “an inventory of cast and wrought iron pieces, fragments of candlesticks, old railings, gates, incense burners, trophies, trays”) as abstract ornaments, Kushner maintains his special fluidity, the source of the peculiarly inscrutable overall effect of each work.

In Orfeo, 1986, it is the spacing and pacing of the parts, including the rhythm of their color relationships, that counts more than the differences among the objects. The meditative immediacy of Kushner’s drawing remains; its three-dimensionalization, which is peculiarly understated because of the dominance of the flat part in each piece, brings out the illusionistic potential latent in it. But rather than being narrative, this now “realized” space still remains ornamental. It is worth noting that the flat part is typically a sheet of bronze in which a face is cut, or a silver tray with figures inscribed in it. The fusion of image and material makes the literal flatness emphatic.

Kushner, it seems to me, has always been interested in the ecstasy of voluptuousness. Taking vulgar materials that signal the body’s obstinacy, he unites them with an ambivalently sweeping/lingering motion, to which the exhibitionistic color contributes. It is as though each work were a body running its hands over its parts, lingering on each in an anointing, caressing gesture. Among other things, this effect helps us transcend the sometimes gaudy character of each part.

Hospitality, 1986, makes a certain point about Kushner’s work in general. The title is apt, for it is warm and welcoming, with no ironical tricks up its sleeve. Indeed, the works are determinedly un-anxious, for all the differences of and tensions among their parts. They do not convey weltschmerz or Sturm and Drang suffering. Kushner’s accomplishment is rare in contemporary art: the creation of works of art that convey happiness without losing their esthetic complexity and power. It seems an un-ambivalent happiness, a kind of perfected pleasurableness, which makes his ability to sustain it in work after work even more unusual. It is a happiness that still relies on an idealizing attitude to the eternal female, monumentalized into haunting grandeur. One must hang one’s good will to life on some ideal–why not on that which traditionally promises the satisfaction of all the senses in love? The marvel of Kushner’s art is that it uses Modernist means of assemblage to create a post-Modem richness of expressive effect.

Donald Kuspit