New York

Stanley Boxer

André Emmerich Gallery

Stanley Boxer’s paintings give me pleasure. Not only do I find them a relief from the sophomoric ideologically oriented work pervasive in the art world today, but they serve as a reminder that the pleasure principle, with its primitive promesse du bonheur, is inescapable in art. Boxer is a virtuoso of sensual surface, mixing gestures and encrustrations with masterful bravura, abandon, and wit. Wild titles, such as Paradisicalsuccors, 1990, and Abraizedfondle, 1991, reflect this. Yet Boxer’s attitude to the erotic—the erotic act of painting as well as the eros generated by paint—seems ironical and self-mocking. That is, Boxer’s paintings are abstract drolleries flattened color orgasms, as it were.

Boxer does try to levitate and spatialize the surface through his use of various materials—some of which are too conspicuous for my taste, that is, unintegrated into the general painterliness—but I take this to be part of the drollery. There is, however, a whole group of small works—more like studies—that carry this esthetic amusement too far. They seem to suggest that a visual joke that goes nowhere is enough. Nonetheless, the works in general convey a delicious excitement, just this side of the lurid.

I believe that some of the works are a kind of self-portraiture—self-caricature? Aputzessharedfaith and Amarblemanshonor (both 1991) seem to be ironical assertions of faith in the futile act of manic-depressive painting. At the same time, Boxer seems to be saying that abstract painting is not simply a displacement of gratification into color and texture—not substitute gratification but a model for gratification at its best. He reaffirms the subliminal point of Color Field painting: that gratification in life is never as complete as in art, and that, in this respect, life ought to take its cue from art. Love ought to be like the self-abandonment and merging of colors, in complete indifference to boundaries. I see Boxer’s work in Freudian terms; the primacy of libido is asserted over the object, which is exactly what the best—the most erotically totalized—Color Field abstraction achieves. It is about intensification of pleasure as an antidote to the toxic effects of reality. Boxer’s color sites are erogenous zones, meshing in the body of the painting. While, in some of the works, paradise seems to turn to smoldering pain, the polymorphous perversity of Boxer’s surfaces, whatever their affective charge, is a relief in a climate in which much art wants to tell us the truth of things facilely.

Donald Kuspit