New York

Matthew Weinstein

Sonnabend Gallery

There are worse ways to characterize Matthew Weinstein’s paintings than in terms of their titles. Like the Titanic—which is also the title of a 1993 work—these paintings seem to be on the verge of slipping out of sight as physical objects, that is, they represent that slippage by becoming “conceptual.”

Tangles of lines, colors, spots—the whole formal heritage of the abstract apparatus—here possess an almost irresistible tactility with pseudovisionary potential. Are these works ships of fools—for foolish spectators—or are they transient, poetic, “slow kisses on the eyelids of the sea,” as the title of a 1994 work suggests? The arrangement of skulls in F(r)iends, 1994, makes the picture look like a wild playing card—the Joker—but every card in Weinstein’s deck has this streak to it. Weinstein is having cynical fun, as his mock Miró, 1994, suggests, while he tackles abstract painting—and the big ideas and hopes it’s supposed to be able to convey. Indeed, there’s something anticlimactic about Weinstein’s faked painting, full of false hopes of meaningfulness, would-be ironic allusions, and the clever mimesis of the supposedly inimitable. It’s a wonderful act of painterly prestidigitation: the magician lets us look up the sleeve of painting and meaning, as though giving the game away makes it less of a game. The history of abstract painting is churned up again as though that will keep it from getting sour, if not exactly make it melt in our mouths.

So we’re back in the Black Forest of so-called conceptual painting: clever, bright colors captivatingly arranged, with no point to them except as traces of memory. There is indeed a new terror in Weinstein’s insouciance. I like the itty-bittyness of his detail, and the discreetly mixed mode that grates on the visual nerves. I especially like the sci-fi aura in Untitled, 1994: aliens among the biomorphs. I think Nurses, 1994, is also sci-fi comedy, with its red Martian blob and painterly pseudopods reaching into hermetic rectangles and its Cheshire cat, full of hallucinatory grace, surveying the scene. It’s clearly got Weinstein’s painterly tongue. I like the way Weinstein disregards the boundaries of the painting in the snaky, creeping-color-crud works, and I also like the neo-puritanical neatness of the “iconic” ones.

If this is the future of painting I am happy to go along with it, but why does the past feel better? I can see through the simulacrum, and I need something I can’t see through, something that forces me to see. Will the real Miró please stand up and make itself known? Parody is a parasite that sooner or later destroys its host, which leaves the parasite high and dry until it finds another one, though no doubt there’s an almost endless supply in the Modernist past. Granted, the painterly blood sucked out by the parodying parasite is perhaps the only nourishment left in the corpse of abstraction, so let’s give credit where credit is due. If, like Weinstein, you can get wine out of stone you’re no doubt as good a painter as Moses was a prophet, but, then again, his brother’s snake ate up the snakes of the false magicians.

Donald Kuspit