Randall Schmit

Like a cybernetic David Salle, Randall Schmit runs amok in an art theme park but substitutes an unabashed corniness for the usual post-Modern irony. To confront his “Artificial Corridors” series, 1993–94, is to rummage through an attic storeroom of vaguely clichéd art-historical images. Each of his “corridors” blithely makes a jumble of his personal canon. Taken separately, the paintings are a lot of fun to look at, but as a group they can seem gimmicky. In terms of content they seem overelaborated and somewhat precious; their overriding interest lies in Schmit’s compositional declensions. Stylistic pastiches of representational and abstract forms, Schmit’s works are a mad tapestry of bright colors and colliding structures. It’s a channel-surfing world out there, Schmit seems to say—catch the wave and ride it.

In Artificial Corridor XI, 1994, a woman who could be straight out of a painting by Vermeer looks slyly across the canvas at a Bacchanalian exercise taking place in a Neoclassical garden. Isolated Expressionist blips and graphite cartoons on unprimed canvas float between these two scenes. Threads of pigment resembling melted candle wax drip à la Jackson Pollock at the edges of the frame, threatening to fall out of the picture. As if this weren’t enough, Schmit then pastes broken lines through the careening art-historical fragments, at once joining and splitting them apart. These painted tracks rein in the decadent iconography, providing structural coherence. Whatever one’s final estimation, the results are certainly lively.

A similar architecture grounds the other works. Several contain looming shapes and figures that suggest actors staging melodramatic adaptations of classical myths. This is an artist who, as in Artificial Corridor XII, 1994, can balance a baroque colloquy of Expressionist forms with a Surrealist landscape, creating a decorative exhibitionism from the junk pile of art history. In Artificial Corridor VIII, 1993, a crudely rendered portrait and a still life suggestive, respectively, of Alice Neel and van Gogh, sit cheek-by-jowl with penciled illusions that threaten to swallow the whole.

It’s all a bit much, really: these painterly passages depend a little too heavily on scenic artifice. In the end, I preferred the collaged paper pieces hanging in the back hallway of the gallery. These more modest works revealed the mysteries of Schmit’s plastic concerns at their draftsmanlike source and with simpler, more straightforward means. Still, the delirious complexity of these paintings, which evince a decided irreverence for traditional pictorial structures, might, to some tastes, have equal appeal.

Linda Yablonsky