New York

Noel Vietor, Mike Berg

56, Bleecker Gallery

Noel Vietor's projections on textured canvases recall planetarium projections—one is overwhelmed by the sheer magnificence of nature's scope, and so relies on the translation of planetary images to a more accessible scale in order to make nature a kind of theater. But Vietor's suite of moderately scaled projection pieces are not as entrancing as planetarium projections; they tease the viewer with an unrealized promise of spectacular effects. The darkened gallery setup connotes a theater or fun house, wherein darkness acts as a framework for isolated dramatic moments. But the relatively small scale of the pieces works against their impact. And the choice of images—a floating astronaut, a broken-up black silhouette of a bomber plane, and a row of jail cells—is fairly generic. Crater/Painting I, 1988, is the exception. Here the rocky texture of the canvas augments the image of the moon's surface projected onto it; a painted black hole in the center of the canvas lines up with the photo image of a large crater.

Mike Berg's paintings, which were shown in the next room, take the notion of the sublime to new levels of introspection. One is struck primarily by the element of distress in his uncommon surfaces, a visual effect that fit in well with the antiquated look of the gallery's exposed brick walls. Berg seems to be nostalgic for a prior era, but which era exactly is unclear. His pictures are somewhat romantic in nature: images of pyramid steps, as well as vague descriptions of cornices and free-floating flowers, seem to refer to an idealized past. Berg's primary influence is Watteau, while his most contemporary reference is Julian Schnabel in terms of his choice of found, battered paintable objects that give some smaller works a concrete sense of history. The lack of specificity and definition in these thinly painted pictures reinforces the underlying characteristics of loneliness and temporality. At times these paintings seem too fey and ethereal.

Only Biedermeier Chaise In Extremis, 1988, a stylish piece of furniture floating upside-down above a widening vortex, gives the viewer a recognizable, if unstable, point of reference. This large painting is the standout of the show; it evokes a type of emotional turbulence that lies just below surface appearances. The central motif of the vortex evolves gradually through a series of radiating bands of gray paint on a muted beige background. There is an odd sadness to this piece. Berg's topsy-turvy placement of this exquisite, elongated object above the whirling vortex suggests the eventual loss of beautiful material objects in time, and might serve as a metaphor for the undertow of powerful natural forces.

Jude Schwendenwien