New York

Alan Uglow

Lorence-Monk Gallery

Alan Uglow can claim neither the sanction of history, long accorded like-minded peers such as Robert Ryman and Brice Marden, nor a direct line on the zeitgeist that empowers the ’80s-style abstract simulations of Peter Halley or Sherrie Levine. Yet unencumbered by the embalmed readings that inevitably attach themselves to the star-status signature, his paintings make a refreshingly convincing case for the palpable if rarefied pleasures of his particular brand of formal painting.

On his announcements for this exhibition Uglow chose to reproduce 66/68, 1968–88, a painting consisting of a white fiberglass panel raised off the wall, detached from its frame, and positioned near the floor—in other words, reduced to its constituent components. The work partakes of the transgressive theatricality attributed to full-blown Minimalism. Originally made in 1968 and reconstructed for this exhibition, it constitutes a textbook demonstration of classic Minimalist mandates. In the context of the show, however, it functioned more as a historical point of reference off which to bounce Uglow’s resolutely pictorial concerns than as a statement of his current position. Where the painterly minimalisms of Ryman, Marden, or Ellsworth Kelly accrue a measure of historical potency by their proximity to the extreme term of the monochrome, Uglow’s less celebrated work depends almost wholly on formal interest.

The three largish canvases here (all works 1988) are distinguished by an elaboration entirely interior to the frame. Uglow layers translucent veils of white paint, building buttery, opalescent grounds which he punctuates with hard-edge rectangles in primary colors. At a glance the milky surfaces appear uninflected, but upon closer inspection, complex ghostlike demarcations reveal themselves. It is difficult, initially, to determine whether the differentiations in a work such as Discrete Paronia are actual or illusory—whether color modulations ranging from cadmium to vermilion depend on adjustments of value or hue. Uglow’s compositions are so subtly realized that the time it takes to unravel them can seem infinitely distended; a change of lighting often reveals a whole new battery of pictorial incident. In Hidden Agenda, for example, Uglow plays the two sides of a simple bipartite structure off each other. Formal differences become legible by reading back and forth from one panel to the other, as a limited vocabulary of rectangles on a white background is keyed to nearly fugal intricacy. Low on glitz, high on discrete formal wit, Uglow makes subtly inventive paintings that consistently defy the nearly claustrophobic parameters within which they operate.

Jack Bankowsky