New York

David Rabinowitch


One cannot help but be awed by David Rabinowitch’s seven “Construction of Vision Drawings,” 1969–1978, when they are viewed in the context of Barbara Flynn’s high, narrow, geometrically exquisite gallery. Geometry speaks to geometry, suggesting a new peak of purity, and a fresh sophistication of the void. These drawings look as if it took a long time to ponder each of their few details, from the size of the paper to the placement of the geometrical elements. Rabinowitch’s drawings demonstrate the continued viability—the infinite renewability—of the perfectionist less-is-more esthetic: the less visible and simpler it is, the more deeply it is seen and the more profound its simplicity. Above all, the more readily the space of seeing becomes a kind of inner sanctum—a hushed monastic cell. Indeed, Rabinowitch’s drawings have an ascetic restraint that suggests a devotional intensity.

Geometry once again seems a contemplative, all-absorbing end in itself, all the more so because of Rabinowitch’s “ironic” doubling and “tactile” rendering of it: outlined circle stands across from vaporous circle; big, dark ellipse is at odds with big, lightly drawn, almost invisible ellipse; small dark ellipse stands diagonally opposed to, but not precisely aligned with, small dark ellipse, and so on. Rabinowitch repeats each simple geometrical element with a “twist,” so that the drawing as a whole becomes unexpectedly complex and subliminally tense. The elements seem to move in and out of visibility, appearing spatially at odds, however formally alike. This perverse mirroring renders intelligibility at once peculiarly vital and elusive. Simple geometry tends to become self-stereotyping and inert, but Rabinowitch’s “differentiation” of it, through a strategy of touch and placement, makes it strangely self-conscious.

And also peculiarly insecure and unstable, for all the “harmony” each geometrical form has in itself. From Kasimir Malevich through Piet Mondrian to early Frank Stella, we see that perhaps the most enduring issue in the history of geometrical abstraction is how to breathe mystical life—a life that becomes a kind of taking stock and self-gathering—into the waxworkslike conventionality of simple geometrical form. The problem is how to make the self-evident seem to hide and simultaneously convey something that is far from self-evident. This is accomplished by placing self-same geometrical entities in asymmetrical relationship, destabilizing them, and thus making them seem inwardly alive—mystically vibrant. Rabinowitch, by creating an effect of displacement within a basically unified work—not unlike what Malevich did with his white-on-white square, but subtler, in that it also creates an effect of tactile displacement—has found a new way of doing this. This is no mean feat at a time when geometry seems to have become an entropic endgame for many artists, who use it to invalidate rather than revalidate the visionary purpose of geometrical abstraction. This may testify to their own lack of geometric imagination, which, as Rabinowitch demonstrates, still has subtle possibilities.

Donald Kuspit