New York

Alan Charlton

Michael Klein, Inc.

With so much cute, brainy, like-minded art around these days I’ve found myself using the following guideline to help screen shows: if an artist’s work can be described adequately in a sentence, it probably leaves something to be desired. Alan Charlton’s sentence would go something like this: he’s the guy who does those rows of narrow gray panels. That could be my review, albeit filled out with background material (he’s youngish and British), reference points (Donald Judd, Tim Ebner, Brice Marden), and an idiosyncratic turn of phrase or two (“My first thought upon entering the gallery was that someone had tried to freeze-dry Minimalism”). What saved this show from merely taking up space was something in the pieces that Charlton may or may not be consciously manipulating, namely the quality of the color. Once past the initial impression of a chic graveyard, the work operates curiously, if provincially, within the paint itself.

Charlton’s is an alluring and complex gray, suggesting at once a foggy translucence, a metallic shimmer, and the fugitive surface of television static. The works’ power seems partly to do with some innate understanding of color’s potential lyricism and partly to do with the arrangement of the panels. Displayed on the walls in groups of 6, 8, 10, 12, and 16, the panels quickly align themselves with Minimalism and its offshoots. But they just as quickly attain a generic invisibility once the color is scrutinized. These works play it right down the middle. Charlton’s formalism is neither original enough to comment interestingly on the pluses and minuses of Minimalism, nor sufficiently downplayed to completely disappear into the numinous, quicksandlike color. The result was a show that could too easily be speed-read for signs of contemporaneity, then dismissed as more studious trend-mongering.

Maybe Charlton’s problem is politeness. It’s a problem that several “top” British artists (Anthony Caro, Tony Cragg) have yet to overcome. By aligning himself with both his Minimalist role-models and his snickering neo-Minimalist counterparts, Charton winds up displaying an irritating repetitiveness while providing nothing particularly substantial to the genre. I doubt the world needs another canny reductivist at this point, even a quasi-existential one. But there’s always room for progenitors of new forms of beauty. Based on the evidence of his unusual sense of color and/or its absence, Charlton seems capable of something less overtly ambitious but more rewardingly strange.

Dennis Cooper