New York

Linda Daniels

Jose Freire Fine Art Inc.

This show of five, multipaneled, abstract paintings was easily Linda Daniels’s strongest to date. Although she has worked in a consistent idiom for a number of years—typically, a configuration of Color Field panels brimming with scores of patterned, abstract hieroglyphics—these paintings marked a bold departure for the artist. Trading in her previously muted colors for newer, brighter, decadently decorative colors, Daniels created smart-looking, scaled-down post–Pattern and Decoration puzzles that are too much fun to be cynical, and are ultimately as thought provoking as they are sensuous.

A drag version of high formal seriousness, Cross Dressing, 1992–93, delivers a challenge to the traditionally sober cruciform shape with punchy fields of pink, blue, and green. More than simply one-liners, this and other works are complex records of process. Each panel has been built up with an allover sea of small, restless brushstrokes, that together with the artist’s trademark—scraped-off hieroglyphs—results in an alluring Rosetta Stone of sorts, that is never quite decipherable. The highly visible, incised marks inevitably swirl into shapes that form curious echoing and mirroring relationships with each other and with the dominant structures of the panels. In each of Daniels’ paintings, her feminine colors and persistent, decidedly unmacho brushstrokes and scrapings ebb and flow within and against arbitrary geometric articulations. It is this erotic energy that Daniels wields against the equally arbitrary, male-dominated history of abstraction itself.

In another break with previous practice, Daniels clued the viewer into her investigation of Modernist abstraction through her choice of titles. In Who’s Afraid of Pink, Peach, & Blue, 1992, Piet Mondrian’s rigidly delineated fields of primary colors have been replaced by a horizontal cool-warm-cool-warm-cool progression of Kool-Aid-flavored panels. Surprisingly, Daniels’ flocks of interlocking crescent-shaped marks recall an earlier, forgotten Mondrian, whose canvasses of the ’teens, filled with broken crosses, bespeak an impulse and process not unlike her own. Decorative Figure on an Ornamental Ground, 1993, is a richly painted homage to the maitre of decorative Modernism himself, celebrating a moment in Matisse’s career that certain critics would rather forget. Finally, Persian Rug for Ad Reinhardt, 1992, a symphony of “cosmetic” colors, alludes to a telling anecdote—Reinhardt’s on-record dismissal of his own early, decorative paintings as “my Persian rugs.” Daniels speaks volumes when she transforms this epithet into a compliment. In each of these three works, she has restored Modernism’s repressed side to its rightful place in history.

Daniels’ protracted conversation with the history of Modern abstract painting is fun, profound, and free of moralizing. Hers is not a monologue so much as a respectful dialogue, the kind marked by listening and thoughtful response, the kind that shouldn’t be rushed.

Jenifer P. Borum