New York

Moira Dryer

Mary Boone Gallery | Chelsea

Moira Dryer’s fuzzy abstract paintings look like wallpaper or bedraggled scaps of moiré or tie-dyed fabric. In spite of this seeming inconsequence, the work proceeds, albeit tenuously, from a metaphor of abstraction as consciousness—a metaphor that has persisted with intermittent strength since the advent of Abstract Expressionism. Dryer shirks the often embarrassing rhetoric of torment that characterizes much of that movement’s constitutive discourse, but she retains a vague emotivity as the subdued referential content of her art. An absence of readily discernible subject matter points towards an interiorized psychological experience as abstraction’s meaning, although in Dryer’s work this experience is potentially vitiated by the nagging persistence of ornamental excrescences. As Dryer explicitly disavows purist or “religious” abstraction, the nature of the work’s interiority becomes its interpretive crux.

Dryer’s intimist effects depend on an interplay of preconceived design and randomness. The paintings often seem to be in a state of barely suspended dissolution. In both Untitled, 1988, and Picture Perfect II, 1989, the artist exploits contrasts between the implied stability of a latticelike structure of horizontal stripes, and the gradual deliquescence of accidental vertical rivulets of paint seeping downward. Schematic design falters, losing itself in an amorphous fluidity; form and being give way to formlessness and nonbeing. Purely decorative efflorescences, such as the latter work’s scalloped border, further foreground a putatively “feminine” quality as the painting’s primary content.

Inevitably, and regardless of the potentially invidious implications, Dryer’s work is about femininity, as the language brought to bear upon it is inextricably allied to conventional sexual stereotypes. Ideas of the masculine and the feminine precondition almost all the language used to talk about art. Dryer’s paintings are pretty, but their implied, possibly inadvertent sexual dynamic remains the most compelling thing about them. Her work takes its place with respect to the “heroic,” absurdly phallicized past of Abstract Expressionism. This sexual pantomime continues to inflect Dryer’s position in regard to her contemporaries. Her work is closest, both formally and thematically, to that of Sherrie Levine and Philip Taaffe, although her apparent earnestness precludes the mordant disequilibrium of the former and the dandified perversity of the latter. Like the best recent abstract painting, it is interesting not for formal innovation or virtuosity, but rather for the way in which it forces abstraction’s repressed or latent psychosexual involutions to register as manifest content.

David Rimanelli