New York

Steve DiBenedetto

Cable Gallery

The Op image’s greatest potential conquest of the mind is its ability to induce a headache. The essential banality of pure optical patterning prefigured its short life within high art and relegated it primarily to psychedelic paraphernalia, such as black-light posters. Maturing generations of American youth who invested in these icons of adolescent decadence tended to lose interest in them when their black lights burned out. But Steve DiBenedetto is still a fan.

DiBenedetto works with this degraded form of imagery, creating hallucinogenic paintings out of vibrating stripes and swirling moiré patterns. It is difficult to look at these paintings for long without hearing electric guitar solos. But DiBenedetto’s work does not exist purely on the level of the appropriation and resurrection of a bygone esthetic. In fact, DiBenedetto produces his strongest paintings when he plays down the quasi-conceptual side of his work. He prevents his work from slipping into mere nostalgia by rendering the imagery, which could easily be machine-generated, by hand. Evidence of hand craftsmanship appears in the form of mistakes. DiBenedetto’s systematic technique (tape-spray-tape-spray) literally breaks down at certain points. The myriad thin stripes that compose his swirls and grids are contained in some areas, and elsewhere bleed into each other, creating casualty zones in his zippy roadways. In DiBenedetto’s work, when the system breaks down, the artist’s hand is revealed.

22 Going on 23 (A Case of Insomnia), 1988, is a long, three-paneled painting scaled to run the entire length of a wall. In it, Hofmannesque rectangles float in an optical sea of moiré patterns, rendered in various lurid color schemes. Some of the rectangles are painted in flat colors, some in gradations of a single color, and some in sections of moiré. Yet for all the compositional fiddling, the painting comes off as an extremely self-conscious, only partly successful attempt to generate meaning.

DiBenedetto’s work becomes strangely lyrical when pattern takes over unapologetically, as it does in Domestic Paralysis, 1988. Here curved sections of a densely striped pattern interlock on the surface of a standard-sized easel painting. DiBenedetto gives his pattern an overall haziness, but manages to work out a balance between precision and error, as well as optical dizziness and composure. Accustomed as we have become to breaches of “taste,” DiBenedetto’s work still surprises. It does so, though, not when his imagery is presented in all of the garish splendor it enjoyed in its heyday, but when it is reestheticized.

The most interesting paintings in the show were also the smallest. Five 8-by-10-inch paintings presented simple sections of moiré or dense, gridlike configurations. Almost painterly in their lack of mechanical finesse, their colors somewhat muddy, but sharply accented with Day-Glo, these paintings are singular manifestations of DiBenedetto’s post-hippy esthetic.

Matthew A. Weinstein