New York

Marilyn Lerner

John Good Gallery

For an artist to develop an abstract vocabulary in which each element has both a personal and an archetypal meaning usually takes years. One could also say that a development of this sort (slow, unpredictable, and having little to do with fashionable styles) is in itself a critique both of the formal codifications of abstraction and of consumer culture’s treatment of abstraction as decorative instance. Marilyn Lerner, now in her mid 40s, shows signs of being able to sail through the Scylla (formalism) and Charybdis (decoration) of abstraction in order to reach a realm of specific meaning. Lerner works in oil on carefully cut pieces of plywood, which she primes with modeling paste. Her vocabulary largely consists of circles and squares. Lerner’s preference for this basic vocabulary, as well as the frequent inclusion of black and white in her palette, connects her to the Constructivist and Suprematist traditions. She does not use her vocabulary to deny the particularity of geometric shapes, their forcefulness; rather, she employs a wide spectrum of color, from rich, vibrant hues to bone-dry tones, to articulate shapes and patterns.

The overall shape, the colors, the size and placement of painted shapes—Lerner integrates elements in ways that are simultaneously discordant (non-hierarchical) and harmonious (they contribute to something larger). Her paintings may be read as tactile, visual analogues to Far Eastern music. Lerner, who has traveled to the Far East frequently, particularly to Bali, has redefined and extended her experience of this music, its non-hierarchical and nonnarrative shapings of tones, into a painterly project. In so doing, she recontextualizes contemporary abstraction’s materialist basis by reconnecting it to its Symbolist beginnings. The overall shape of Spirit House, 1988, is more or less that of a vertically oriented rectangle, with specific yet seamless extensions as a triangle and a cut-out rectangle. This painted white shape, which may recall the floor plan of an asymmetrical house with a small courtyard, is further defined by cruciform-derived shapes, a row of triangles, and a patterned row of alternating squares. Lerner’s vocabulary is both basic and specific. Her shapes are meant to be contemplated, disassembled, and reassembled, like a train of thought one stops and ponders. By investigating the zone bordered by acts of looking, thinking, and feeling, Lerner articulates the specific shapes and colors of thinking itself.

John Yau