New York

Glen Baxter

Holly Solomon Gallery

Over the past decade Glen Baxter has developed a large and heterogeneous following for his particular mode of deadpan humor. Through postcards, calendars, books, and more recently, gallery-exhibited drawings, he has elaborated a broad-reaching cultural commentary whose medium, and main characteristic, is a razor-sharp, mordant wit. In this new show Baxter shifted his established practice into a new register, with mixed results.

On display were both Baxter’s well-known drawings-cum-texts and a new series of large-scale textless paintings. The former (all of them made of crayon and ink on paper and all from 1986 and ’87) employ the artist’s conventional format and graphic means in which pale colored images, executed in a style derived from illustrated children’s books, are yoked to oddly aberrant captions. Baxter’s sphere is one of strange encounters, in which jejune schoolboys consort with world-weary damsels, and humans with odd appendages engage in bizarre couplings. In one, for example, a betailed businessman brandishing a cane that ends in a lightbulb stands next to a cowboy in buckskin vest and sheepskin chaps sitting on the ground (There was no denying it was interesting but would it be enough to sustain a longterm relationship? pondered Pete, 1987). Much of Baxter’s gift lies in the imponderables set up by the slightly disjunctive, utterly deadpan text, which in no way explains the imagery but leaves the viewer in a dreamlike, equivocal state. And the other is his talent for literalizing our neuroses: Every Tuesday, Joan would wind Nigel up for his thirty minutes of intimidation and abuse reads one caption under a picture of a chubby-cheeked British schoolboy being cranked up from a well by a woman. In these drawings, there are few of the hip theoretical references that marred Baxter’s earlier work, and a leaner, more assured play with contemporary life.

In his new paintings and large-scale drawings, Baxter seems to attempt to produce the ambiguities of the other works without resorting to the imbroglios of words. No texts here: only dense, compacted spaces that are arranged into ambiguous depths through irregular abstract panels of orange, mauve, and other pastel hues. Against these, Baxter places irreconcilable combinations of elements, such as a ladder leading to nowhere, a truncated column, a tree trunk, cones, cylinders, and billowing clouds. Often Baxter maintains a human scale by interposing a shadowy or simply outlined figure, as in Meditations in Furnishings, 1987, in which a man is shown sitting in an armchair, confronted by a dizzying kaleidoscope of decorating devices. Despite the seductive allure of Baxter’s rendering skills, the loss of text in these works is problematic, as the viewer too easily becomes mired in a fetishistic contemplation of pictorial nuances. One misses the dry, gritty power of the earlier works and looks forward to Baxter’s successful resolution of these inherent linguistic contradictions.

Kate Linker