New York

Jill Baroff

Stark Gallery

The urge to purify, to distill a gesture or an idea until it reaches its most concentrated form is the impetus behind Jill Baroff’s recent work. Only a few years ago, Baroff was showing quietly resolute abstract paintings that effectively synthesized a restrained gesturalism with an equally circumspect affinity for biomorphic reference. She has since radicalized her sense of the practice of painting to the point where she dispenses with nearly every convention associated with the term. These recent paintings are situated at the precise intersection of painting, drawing, sculpture, and even architecture.

Baroff’s new works mimic the walls into which they are set. They are “painted” with plaster (and sometimes wax, graphite, or white paint as well) on foam-board panels that, in turn, are mounted into openings cut into the surrounding wall. For most of these works, their primary sense of presence is conveyed by the cuts themselves, which possess the energy of the drawn line. In some cases the work also includes drawing in the more conventional sense, as in Call II, 1993, which has its own wavering graphite “shadow.” The color of the works is white, sometimes just that of the surrounding wall, often a somewhat less bright tone, a difference that creates a hint of atmosphere. In a few instances Baroff may go too far in the direction of a studied neutrality, but far more often these pieces convey a sense of tremendous force waiting to be activated by the viewer.

The move Baroff’s work has made—from on-the-wall to in-and-like-the-wallis one that manages to be both surprising and then, retrospectively, so logical you wonder why no one has done it before. It’s almost a synthesis of Robert Ryman and Gordon Matta-Clark. In fact the closest relative to Baroff’s work might be the paintings of the Viennese artist Walter Obholzer—wallpaperlike patterns on thin aluminum panels—which, framed by standard molding as they are, give the illusion of being perfectly flush with the walls on which they hang. As with Obholzer, a certain degree of dissimulation is involved in Baroff’s work, since it really includes the “frame” around the inset panel, the twobeing installed as an integral unit despite the fact that the seam between the work and the wall is effaced by tape, plaster, and white paint. These are not site-specific works but, rather, a challenging development of the portable painting—in this regard they resist the otherwise obvious comparison with the polished wall pieces of Karin Sander. One might say that, with impressive discipline, they adapt to their surroundings while refusing to identify with them, exemplifying a rigorous self-direction whose effect is all the more powerful for being so understated.

Barry Schwabsky