New York

Archie Rand

Scott Hanson Gallery

Archie Rand’s new paintings (all works 1990) are coy, cunning reprises and combinations of modernist experiments with accident and order. Works such as Double and Wisp feature seemingly spontaneous, but in fact stylized, calligraphic gesture metamorphosing into intriguing patterns. Predictable in detail, but not in their general design, these configurations spread insecurely. In other works, such as Alpha, Mat, and Rest, the spread of gesture—sometimes tightly coiled, at other times loosely brushed — threatens to overwhelm given patterns. There is more to these works, however, than their perceptual ingeniousness; they convey a sense of melancholy, one might say the melancholy of post-Modernist undecidability, that is augmented by a somber palette of black, white, and gray. Reduced to decadent delicacies, Modernist elements are fused to generate new visual intensities but make no decisive point. At the same time, Rand’s works are post-Modernist in the best sense: rather than abandon themselves to juxtaposition in the hope that the arbitrary rubbing together of images, shapes, and ideas will generate a vital spark of meaning, they search for a subtle synthesis of means. In works such as Wood, Shell VIII, and Light, Rand achieves this. Only such syntheses, with their effect of intimacy, can overcome post-Modernist spectacularism.

The intimacy Rand evokes is reminiscent of Paul Klee’s: he reinvents an alphabet of familiar shapes, as strange abstract “figures”—figures in the carpet, as it were—fraught with unspecifiable subjective import. What Rand presents is a peculiarly elegant configuration, a matrix of pattern and accident, which conveys expressive plenitude. He brings together both intelligible and unintelligible shapes, and the result evokes a primary sense of magical meaning and feeling.

Rand’s economy of rhetorical means is appropriate to the subtlety of the feeling, suggesting that the particularity of the feeling is trusted even if it seems unnamable. No doubt there is some visual sophistry in this, but there is also a kind of philosophical resignation to the difficulty of expressivity. Rand is not trying to impress us generally, but to focus a particular feeling; he produces chamber music, not grand opera. His works are rhetorical flourishes, but in the sense that T. S. Eliot had in mind when he opposed the rhetoric of substance to that of manner.

Donald Kuspit