New York

David Reed

Max Protetch

David Reed’s churning ribbons of futuristic color undulate across the surface with cool voluptuousness, as if the paint had been applied with a large serpentine tongue rather than a palette knife. Given such painterly erotics, it makes sense that Reed would come to think himself a “bedroom painter”—a “school” first suggested to him by the way owners of John McLaughlin’s paintings would regularly move them from the living room to the bedroom in order to live with the work most intimately. When someone asked Reed which bedroom he wanted his own painting to occupy, he thought immediately of the one in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

In his recent show, Reed made a clever stab at realizing this ambition by way of an installation in which one of his abstractions (#332, 1993–94) hung above replicas of the bed, blanket, and silk robe in the Vertigo scene. It could have been a film-buff painter’s rather nerdy homage, but Reed violated the conceit, thereby salvaging it, by including a monitor playing a loop of that sequence—with a difference. As the camera panned horizontally from Jimmy Stewart’s Scottie in the living room to a shot of the bedroom where Kim Novak’s Madeleine reclines, we noticed Reed’s #332 hanging above the bed. Seamlessly spliced into the video, Reed’s painting puns, with its horizontal surge, on the trajectory of the camera, its palette moodily complementing the sexual tension of the scene.

Reed’s desire to escape the endgame logic of postwar abstraction has been more urgent and elegantly channeled than that of most painters of his generation. In the past, he has referenced the suave monumentality of baroque painting, thereby deemphasizing the obvious link between his work and the exhausted arm of Abstract Expressionism. Here, Reed further distanced his painting from that tradition by placing his gestures on a continuum with ribbons of film—those, it would seem, on the cutting-room floor. Both alignments seem designed to say simply that there is no compelling reason why Reed’s lush signature might not simultaneously be legible as the labial folds of baroque cloth and the unreeling irreality of film and video: that contemporary art is contemporary because of the unexpected sexiness, and I daresay vertigo, of just such a Janus-like gaze.

This most recent show of nine paintings registered yet another shift in emphasis. Where in the past Reed organized his canvases into tight, saturated rectilinear panels, here he has clearly, if to varying degrees, isolated their exfoliant progressions within the space of white canvas. In his terms, this move internalizes or cannibalizes the frame of the gallery’s white walls, giving the painting a greater autonomy from the spatial constraints of the gallery. Present from the first in the sealed, mechanistic finish of Reed’s work, this ideal of autonomy leads, at its worst, to the isolation of single large marks in works such as #339, 1994, and #343, 1994–95, which suggest the third-rate Pop shown in many SoHo galleries (the implicit scare quotes notwithstanding). But the same isolationist impulse can give us #313–2, 1994–95, an incipient, tentacular probe of brooding color whose very containment by the white canvas teases it toward a virtual saturation of the frame.

Thad Ziolkowski