New York

Jacqueline Humphries

John Good

Jacqueline Humphries’ paintings take abstraction in a direction that seems entirely opposite to that of Pat Adams. Instead of being subliminally symbolic in import—tropes for internal object relations—Humphries’ works appear to be hyperob-jectifications of the abstract, emphasizing the materiality of the painting’s surface in order to articulate, as she says,“what one can only approach and never represent.” In other words, Humphries, fashionably, wants to represent the unrepresentable; but the unrepresentable has long since become an abstract mannerism, and can be signaled by painterly procedures and formal devices. Indeed, the uniform square grid in Untitled White, 1992, makes the drippy, chance gestures seem less random than they are; even their distribution suggests an ordered chaos. Thus, Humphries’ “contemplation of [a] predicament” is more technical than “spiritual”: a meditation on the familiar problem of integrating geometry and gesture. Of course, the integration has an expressive effect, but what kind depends on how it is carried out.

All of Humphries’ works are, in fact, squares, which are marked and divided with one color or another, part of a seemingly infinite variation on a familiar Modernist theme. An untitled painting of 1992 is constructed the same way as Untitled White, if with different coloration. Inside Edge, 1992, is an enlarged single module of the grid and its marks, with the surface further differentiated by a loosely painted black-gray band. In Three Quarters, 1992, the band becomes crisp and clear gray, and is moved to the left edge. What does Humphries’ sensibility add to the code of geometry and gesture? Or rather, how does she “individualize” their integration? Not so much through her offbeat “design”—at its best in 6 Was 9, 1992—but through the finickiness of her touch, that is, the almost excruciating exactness of each messy mark. It is not just that Humphries has fused the abstract opposites in an interesting new way, but that in the process she has reified them so that they seem perfect in themselves. Meticulousness not only becomes a means of reification, but a way of playing it emotionally safe. Thus, the unconventional integration of conventional opposites is less the “pivot [of] the emotion of [her] works” than a deliberate articulation of every detail. Humphries’ painting gives us a sense of the possibilities of simulated abstraction: not just recapitulation, with whatever twist, of conventional modes, but their rigid articulation. Her intellectualized abstract painting is a didactic end in itself—an object lesson.

Yet her manneristic manipulativeness can be read as a portent of things to come. Abstraction seems on the verge of producing a Bronzino. Humphries’ work is not sufficiently arch to make her that desperately needed master, but it has the elegance that is the necessary condition for the kind of insane flight of abstract mannerist fancy that a latter-day Bronzino might achieve. In an art world of so many meek mannerists, a strong, genuinely dangerous one would be a blessing.

Donald Kuspit