New York

Frank Majore

Holly Solomon

According to Frank Majore, “there are only three subjects worthy of making art about . . . sex, death and beauty.” as for art itself, “it should have some sort of spiritual value, and people should actually be moved by what they see.”

In Majore’s brand-new series, “Anima Rising: The Birth Of Venus (I-IV),” 1992, sex is represented by small, black and white pictures of soap bubbles floating in blackness above soap suds. Some say that Aphrodite “rose naked from the foam of the sea and, riding on a scallop shell, stepped ashore first on the island of Cythera,” and others that “she sprang from the foam which gathered about the genitals of Uranus, when Cronus threw them into the sea.” anyone who has known the visions she can send and the havoc she can raise understands how two such contradictory accounts of her birth might have arisen. Only an adolescent could think that pictures of soap suds and soap bubbles against blackness might symbolize either that birth or the many hymns in paint and language it has inspired.

Death’s representatives in this show were the smaller ’70s still lifes of a skull, a cadaver, a mummy case, and a sphinx, hung on the same wall as the pseudo-cumshots. If a skull or a cadaver all by itself consistently made for successful pictures, we would have known it by titian’s time. Majore’s meditations on death are icons, reworkings of the Jolly Roger, but they fail to evoke the same spirited terror or, for that matter, any emotion whatsoever. Majore concentrates not on the figure but on the ground: black or dull gold, or black on white, overlaid with dots and dashes and triangles. As variations on a theme they recall Arnold Schoenberg on Igor Stravinsky: “You can say Guten abend, or GUTen abend, or GUT! TEN! AB! BEND! But it’s all just ‘good evening.’”

Majore’s new, large black and white landscapes (with their persistent dramatic skies and occasional strong horizons, they are landscapes, not still lifes) depict either white chrysanthemums or clouds against starry skies, sometimes with sky lines and/or streaks of light. They seem to symbolize beauty, but i’m guessing here, for these works give central and heroic stature to elements that usually either embellish landscape art or define its structure. Enlarging them to grotesque proportion as Majore does—until the always potentially tinsel effects of all the pictures’ details take precedence—demonstrates nothing about the beauty of landscape art, which depends first and foremost not on detail but on coherence: depends, in plastic terms, on composition for that first great breathtaking appeal to the eye that is one of its chief pleasures. Majore’s compositions are plodding, dull, slavish repetitions of a few age-old schemes.

From the small selection of his large ’80s color parodies of advertising art also exhibited, and copies of his recent reviews available at the gallery, a review of this show might begin: “at first glance the focus of Majore’s investigations into the strategies of allure, the esthetics of the sales pitch and the chemistry of desire, exposing both our fixation on empty symbolism and imagery and society’s betrayal by illusion’s false promises, seems to have shifted from advertising art to art itself, as Majore appropriates elements of landscape and mythological painting since the Renaissance. Actually, it is a return to his first concerns.”

No and yes. Majore’s work, early to present, explores principles of design and seduction in the craft of display, but his handling of them is poverty-stricken. Think of department-store Christmas windows which both richly and innocently delight the eye and charm the fancy. Some illusions, for all their allure, are neither pernicious nor for that sky off Cythera, it was blue, I tell you, blue!

Ben Lifson