New York

Peter Klashorst

Daniel Newburg Gallery

In this show of oil paintings by the Dutch artist Peter Klashorst one sees glimpses of traditional landscape and the human body, and sometimes the two conflated—pink, fleshy forms that could be read either as limbs or as hills. These works (all from 1988) are officially “contemporary versions of classical Dutch themes,” but unofficially they have a marvelous painterly substantialness that completely belies their source: a recapitulative response to the flickering television image. Klashorst has said of his work, “The colors and forms persuade us to think about highlights in movies and 19th-century painting. . . . What [my] paintings are is fast moving and continuously threatened by broadcast disturbances.” In other words, Klashorst continues in the tradition of Cézanne’s “vibrating sensation,” but now in ultramodern form. Paradoxically, the result is a surface as voluptuous as the best Abstract Expressionistic work, which may be another way of mocking the effect of gestural spontaneity and abandon, or of acknowledging that it is inescapable: that chance and instinct reign even in the electronic image. The general effect is of a kind of Monet continuum of sullen movement within an often frenetic-looking aggregate of colorful elements, most of them jagged or amorphous. I like the ironic energy involved, and the perverse intention, but also the unexpected return to serious perception.

Despite all their irony, and the sense of dissolution inherent in their ephemeral, electronic-image “patina,” many of the titles of the works—Death Isle, Stone Age, Cabaret Voltaire, Syldavie—suggest a certain semiconscious monumentalizing intention, perhaps a somnambulistic desire to live in memory. Böcklin seems the real secret source of inspiration—something at once cloyingly sentimental yet convincingly profound. There is also the sense of recollection in technological tranquillity of the glory that was art—the grandeur of art with an uplifting purpose before it became just another pretty commodity in the window. Like Gerhard Richter, whose quasi-expressionistic works operate in a similar vein, Klashorst seems eager to have it both ways: the grand illusion (the illusion of depth) and the trivialization of all illusion—which is the very act of art. In these works one has come a long way from Clyfford Still’s notion of the elemental, all-saving (and art-saving) “Act,” but the works are still haunted by it, still desirous of revelatory magnificence. This is thoroughly post-Modernist in its ambiguity, in its desire to be high but in finding the low and populist irresistible—worth more than a taste.

One might say that the museum and the street, in the form of history and technology, have been reconciled here, ending that antipathy evident in, for example, André Breton’s remarks in Le Surréalisme et la peinture (Surrealism and painting, 1928). Reconciliation is wonderful, but sometimes one wonders to what point: is there much of a gain in suggestiveness—or in irony? However I read Klashorst’s paintings, I am going to be wrong, which is why I find them such a sensual and intellectual delight. But I prefer their sensual aspect, however ironic the intent, because that has subsumed—indeed, seems to have dissolved—the intellectuality that went into their making. Sensuality here doesn’t celebrate anything else—that is, it’s not a facade—but again shows its superiority to artistic ingenuity.

Donald Kuspit