New York

Rochelle Feinstein

Max Protetch

Rochelle Feinstein’s paintings can be complex, contradictory, and full of rowdy visual cacophony. Or they can be simple, obvious, even dumb. In neither case are they easy to ignore. These works undoubtedly eschew whatever remains of the desire for something “purely” visual or optical in “abstract painting”; they clearly assume, and at times proclaim, a semiotic and discursive model for their own activity. But that does not mean—even, perhaps especially when they are at their most obvious—that they accept an ideal of communicative clarity or declamatory certainty. Rather, their effect is to short-circuit signification; by means of a canny misdirection of our linguistic responses, they return us in a roundabout way to a cognizance of the phenomenal flash we call visual excitement.

In Architecture, 1996, Warholian silk-screen repetition marries a New Yorker cartoon Richard Prince might have chuckled over but passed on (“I’m sorry, I just feel I should be dating someone closer to my daughter’s age”) with an ebulliently blunt painterly reconstruction of the Modernist grid à la Mary Heilmann. While we can hardly help speculating on the cartoon’s relevance to the daily life of the woman who has so insistently plugged it into her painting, such conjectures tell us little about how to synthesize those reflections with the rather elaborate formal “architecture” that presumably gives the painting its title—or vice versa. What we can say is that the distinctly knowing and sarcastic “tone” or “voice” of the painting is inextricable from its firm yet casual structure and its tough, breezy execution, so that exuberance and sarcasm come to an uneasy face-off we can only mutely witness.

While Feinstein’s simpler, stripped-down paintings can be similarly bemusing, with fewer elements involved, short-circuiting our decoding of the painting is a far more delicate affair; here the painter seems less secure in her control of the process. Nature/Nurture, 1996, with its deadpan gray field playing host to two irreconcilable “zips”—black latex on the left, parti-colored pom-poms on the right—left me just feeling sorry for poor old Barnett Newman, whose ponderous sublimity has called down so much facetious mimicry over the years. Still, I have to admit I enjoyed an inward laugh when I saw the painting, and then a sense of puzzlement about the nature of my response that left me as critical of myself as of the work. Not many unsatisfactory paintings give me that much to think about. And considering the variousness of her efforts, Feinstein’s hits are decisively more numerous than her misses.

Barry Schwabsky