New York

Fabian Marcaccio

John Post Lee Gallery

Fabian Marcaccio uses the conventional elements of Modernist practice in an artificially rule-bound, self-conscious, and non-idiomatic way to create not a chain of orderly communicative utterances but peculiar and estranging sequences that, for all their blatancy, continually short-circuit any effort to comprehend them. This work speaks Painting as a Foreign Language.

This exhibition consisted of a series of five paintings titled “The Altered Genetics of Painting,” 1992–93. The paintings, closely allied in color, in some respects seemed to form a quasi-narrative cycle, yet were also self-contained. Visual patterns reappeared from painting to painting (since Marcaccio uses printing technologies as readily as the handcrafts traditional to painting, his repetitions are quite exact) but always interacted quite distinctly with the other elements in a particular piece. In this sense the organization of the show as a whole reflected that of the individual canvases: a marshaling of a broad range of formal strategies and protocols in ways that make them seem at once cohesive and contradictory, composed yet in an advanced state of decomposition.

The elements foregrounded by Marcaccio are ones basic to any materialist analysis of painting conventions: the wall, the stretcher, the canvas, and the brushstroke. But in contrast to the essentially clarifying or classicizing bent of the reductive Formalism of the ’60s, Marcaccio plays the elements off against each other and against themselves with a mannerist’s sense of complexity and distance but also a baroque, even rococo, ornamental profusion. These are paintings in which stretcher bars pierce the sides of the canvas to emerge and pull themselves into weirdly plaited and contorted shapes like something out of grotesque fantasy furniture; oversized “brushstrokes,” made of transparent silicone gel, knot themselves into arabesques at all angles to the colors they purport to convey; a canvas-weave pattern imprinted on the surface continually changes scale and sometimes braids itself into a passing brushstroke; and the wall itself may sprout a plaster protuberance that stretches out umbilically to connect with some silicone drips. Most alarmingly, the paradoxes and conceptual convolutions that propagate themselves so freely on the wall reproduce themselves as readily in the vexed and dizzied understanding of the viewer; not only is one forced, for instance, to think of the surrounding wall as an element within the moveable painting it happens to support, but also to accept this intuition as anomalous and futile.

What Marcaccio does is not most productively seen as satirical or ironic. Rather, his work is comical, but it is a comedy of hyperbolic sincerity. There is no sense of the sufficient here, and even less of subtlety. Contamination is all. Although Marcaccio presents painting as a set of conventions that can be endlessly broken down and recombined but have no inherent weight of their own, the result is a paradoxical originality; certainly no one else’s paintings look remotely like these—and with such awkward enjoyments that’s no small relief.

Barry Schwabsky