New York

Will Mentor

Laurie Rubin Gallery

Will Mentor’s work has splintered off in so many directions that it is difficult to see what binds his output together, besides the artist’s facility with paint and composition. His recent show is composed of representatives from the various styles he has been working in: geometric abstraction, atmospheric painting, and a sort of surreal cubism. Though Mentor swings with technical bravado through this museum of styles, his work provokes little more than routine visual interest. Mentor invests much more in his impeccably glazed surfaces than in the development of an individual sensibility or an informed critical relationship to the work he mimics.

St. Joes, Missouri, 1988, features stripes that resemble the pattern of product code bars set over floating yellow squares. The piece is placed in an intricately carved and gold-leafed frame. The juxtaposition of old and new here is painfully obvious, as is the significance of the code bar pattern (the intrinsic value of the painting is its price). It is this type of pseudoconceptual cynicism that flattens out Mentor’s work. Four other striped paintings—Anglophile, Trophy for Patience, Twister, and Pictionary, all 1988—present highly evocative permutations of a reduced image. All are variations of a conical, vaselike shape composed of bent horizontal stripes, painted in grisaille on vertically oriented steel sheets.

Two cubist-style paintings, Don Giovanni Moments after Killing the Commandant and Don Giovanni Whispering to Leporello, both 1988, are mirror images of each other. Both show a jagged formation of cylinders, cones, trapezoids, and triangles topped with what looks like Marcel Duchamp’s chocolate-grinder handle. In these paintings Mentor combines shapes from Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Fernand Léger into a single formation, which sits like a sculpture in a shallow space. When Mentor sticks to the formal history of painting for his inspiration, his work is clever and insightful.

Waterlillies and Indulge, both 1988, are atmospheric paintings that feature tiny geometric images floating within them. The background of Indulge is a washy field of browns and greens. Two blue shapes that look like crayon tips line up along the bottom, while two shapes resembling those from the “Don Giovanni” paintings float above them. Mentor’s creation of an atmospheric space is a welcome alternative to an overly complicated repertoire of images. In two sculptures, Mentor tries to turn confusion into style: mimicking the surrealist object, both pieces consist of a large shape mounted on a pole, which is attached to a pair of rusted steel wheels. Greiners Implement Company, 1988, features two sides of a rectangular solid painted in styles that echo other works here. The remaining side is a rectangle of framed corn, another recurring motif. These objects seem to be Mentor’s attempt to bind his splintered vision with the quirkiness of the surrealist object. But quirkiness only exists in work that begins with a sense of rigor. Mentor, whose only dictum appears to be “Paint well” (in the most banal sense of the phrase), delivers mostly confusion.

Matthew A. Weinstein