New York

Godwin Hoffmann

Vera Engelhorn Gallery

This handsome exhibition of works on paper is not quite indicative of Godwin Hoffmann’s main body of work. Working and exhibiting widely abroad, Hoffmann has installed shaped canvases in various environments—alongside bridges, on the walls of churches, inside an arch in an arcade. Those canvases present an odd hybrid of Abstract Expressionist and Color Field techniques that seem more decorative than anything else. This exhibition, however, included only one example of such work, and one senses that the black and white “drawings” are somehow studies for, or reactions to, the more highly finished and painstakingly sited canvases.

The drawings, which date from 1977 to 1993, vary in size and media; the larger are charcoal on paper, the smaller, oil or acrylic on paper. Most, however, are elegant works composed of strips or strokes of black on white, both of which are laid on in a painterly manner suggesting a close-up of a Franz Kline. The whites, like Kline’s, are constructed with no small degree of sophistication; as you approach them they appear to melt into a grayish fog, and in others the charcoal seems to emerge from within the paper itself. Despite their harsh geometry, these are rather romantic works.

The most successful piece is a triptych in which three separately framed drawings nevertheless relate to each other as a single drawing, the black lines continuing from one work to the next. The old question of whether the painting (or drawing) is contained by its borders or extends into a world that continues off the canvas (or paper) is here given a somewhat absurd spin by the civilizing influence of protective glass and bleached hardwood frames.

The nature of Hoffmann’s work—which in its most realized form requires the historical weight of European architecture to set it off—is not given full expression by this exhibition. This show of drawings did serve, however, to demonstrate his sly reworking of Abstract Expressionist concerns and tropes.

Justin Spring