New York

Mark Innerst

Curt Marcus Gallery

Mark Innerst’s recent paintings continue his meditations on the traditions of landscape and still life, the history of art and the artifice of history. The ironic nostalgia at the heart of his project appears as a transformative replay of motifs and styles from the history of European and American painting: from the Romantic sublime of Turner, Friedrich, and the Luminists, to the descriptive exactitude of Dutch still life. Some recent works cross over into the 20th century, invoking the Precisionists and Piet Mondrian. Loving yet disabused, Innerst’s meticulous, exquisite technique embalms as well as honors its precursors. These paintings maintain their esthetic and intellectual tension precisely to the extent that they demand at once affective involvement and ironic composure.

Innerst’s quasi-Luminist landscapes in miniature have been shown before, but they remain startling, even disquieting. Something has gone unmistakenly awry in this resurrection of the Romantic sublime. These landscapes are peculiarly airless, as if the life had been drained from nature, leaving only the ghostly husk of an image. Innerst paints Luminism as if it were still possible today. He wants that erstwhile beauty in all the glory of its seduction and willed transcendence, but knows all too well that it is impossible; he paints desire, forever unfulfilled. Ostensibly retrogressive in style and subject, these works give off a distinctly post-Modern air of exhaustion and limitation, especially in their diminished, parodic, reverse-telescopic scale and their ornate, engulfing, even mocking frames. Nature here, in vivid contrast to that portrayed by Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, is subtly poisoned. In Leaving Venice, 1988, industrial plants and telephone poles—minuscule in relation to the immense sky—scar the otherwise pristine vista.

These are paintings not from nature but rather of nature as mediated by esthetic tradition. Innerst’s project is inextricably bound to a self-consciousness about painting’s status as representation—a fashionable theme these days, but one seldom realized with such intelligence and bravura. In Venetian Ceiling, 1988, the gilded maze of amorphous, frothy images recedes no less inexorably than the horizons of the landscapes. In this apotheosis of the vertiginous fake-Baroque, representations pullulate and commingle. By contrast, View of the River, 1988, is all cool geometries, a decomposition of the cityscape into rectilinear planes that recalls Charles Sheeler. The Mondrianesque Composition Study, 1988, is itself an abstract rendering of paintings, in which Innerst depicts walls of pictures hung salon-style. Pictures within pictures, frames within frames: the imagistic circuit becomes a hall of mirrors. Innerst seems to be saying, perhaps sadly, “It’s all art,” as the shadowy outlines of one picture are encoffined by others.

David Rimanelli