New York

Robert Mangold

Pace | 32 East 57th Street

The ten large paintings in this show represent numbers VIII through XVIII of Robert Mangold’s “Attic Series,” a sequence begun in 1990 and named, in the course of its development, after classical pottery Mangold admired during a visit to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It is easy to understand the root of this attraction: recognition. As Klaus Kertess rightly asserts in his catalogue essay, “luminous dryness, incisive clarity of both internal and external contours, regimented directness of drawing, abstract coloration—all are characteristics shared by Attic pottery and Mangold’s painting.” They are also the very characteristics that, while promoting respect, have helped to stanch any real enthusiasm for Mangold’s work for roughly the last twenty-five years. Unlike the more playfully polymorphous efforts of Sol LeWitt, with whom he is frequently compared, Mangold’s paintings are generally perceived to be technical and dauntingly remote.

So perhaps the most important thing to emphasize about Mangold’s ten new Attic paintings is their terrific and unabashedly decorative visual appeal. While rules, of course, have been put into effect, it is the full-out chromatic beauty of these works that arrests one. Using thin layers of rolled-on acrylic paint, Mangold has obtained subtly dappled surfaces in shades such as mahogany, aubergine, olive, summer squash, and porphyry that look as if they had somehow been dry-baked without cracking or dulling in the process. On this intense loam—evocative, as well, of what one may imagine to be the Attic landscape—Mangold’s strict line takes its carefully planned walks. In a vertical, yellow parallelogram leaning to the right, entitled Attic Series VIII, 1990, the interior line describes a figure eight, or infinity symbol, while maintaining obligatory if imperfect contact with the edge of the canvas. The broader Attic Series XI, 1991—an irregular bright persimmon parallelogram—includes a more elongated figure eight and a triangular side-panel, the elevation of which is determined by the point where the structure becomes wider than it is tall.

Each of the last three paintings—numbers XVI, XVII, and XVIII—has one curved edge and a drawn figure comprised of straight lines. They are not quite so amiable as the seven others featuring single or double ellipses. The final trio is a little tougher, more like game plans on martial fields—closer to Ellsworth Kelly’s work than to the incisive lines and elongated ovals of Amedeo Modigliani’s figures and faces, which they also obliquely suggest. For me the experience was a real pleasure: awakening to the discreet, bodily charms of visual association and historic assonance in work long considered to be exquisitely calibrated but uptight. Paintings that variously conjure the notebooks of Pythagoras, sun-deepened earthtones of Attic pottery, neoclassical depictions of the Roman countryside, geometric blissouts by Kazimir Malevich, and nudes by Modigliani can’t really be all that dry.

––Lisa Liebmann