New York

Nicola De Maria

Among the familiar approaches to abstract art—the decorative, the metaphysical, and the Minimalist—the decorative has long been regarded as the least substantial. It is also the least theorized. The metaphysical abstractionist is viewed as conveying information from or intimations about other ontological realms. The Minimalist is doing the exact opposite, attempting to show materiality in all possible directness without any metaphysical overlay. But what does the decorative abstractionist do? Make wallpaper or wrapping paper designs? When Barnett Newman’s first solo show was received as “decorative,” he was so mortified that he did not exhibit his work again for five years.

Nicola De Maria’s paintings have been interpreted repeatedly by U.S. critics as unabashedly affirming the decorative, while Italian critics tend to associate his work with the metaphysical tradition of the sublime, but in a light and confectionery mode—one of apparent naïveté and bright, cheerful colors. The four large paintings here look almost like Christmas cards. Dominated by patches of primary colors, with yellow and reds floating on a blue nocturnal ground sparingly interspersed with shapes simultaneously suggesting stars and flowers, these could almost be kitsch evocations of nativity scenes. The four are so alike as to call into question their integrity as separate pieces.

In addition, there was a group of smaller, quasi-sculptural works, in which one little stretched canvas was affixed to the surface of another, both elementary, childish looking abstractions painted in saturated primaries and secondaries. One of De Maria’s trademark doors-painted-on-the-wall suggested an exit at the rear of the gallery.

This work seems grotesquely trivial and pointless—at least until one looks at the price list, which suggests Christmas cards are still pious relics. It’s a pity this artist doesn’t have Newman’s sense of shame.

Thomas McEvilley