New York

Maureen Gallace

Something’s changed in Maureen Gallace’s paintings—changed as subtly as you’d expect of work that’s as soft-spoken and preternaturally mild as hers, but no less decisively for that. The image the paintings convey is the same one they have always insisted on: a house, featureless but inexplicably luminous, nestled in a landscape of eerie peacefulness. I’d always thought of Gallace’s paintings as fundamentally abstract, the house not so much a house as the form of a house, a given shape, a certain geometry—near relative to Albers’ squares as to Morandi’s bottles.

But in Gallace’s recent work, it no longer seems the same house, the same landscape. Which is not exactly to say that they’re altogether different, either, but rather that they have acquired a heightened specificity—enough to be distinguishable both from painting to painting as well as from the almost undifferentiated images she painted before. Gallace has hardly become a realist (whatever that is). But the landscape, now identified as that of suburban Connecticut, has become subject to seasonal vicissitudes; it is often snow-covered, or elsewhere tinged with the drab tones of autumn or overwhelmed with flowers (in a reversal of scale reminiscent of certain paintings by Albert York, roses begin to dwarf the house itself). The weather, the light, the air have their immediately perceptible particularity; a wall is clearly made up of individual stones, though these are no more individually described than is each leaf on the trees. As one stood back and saw each row of paintings, most without detail, as individual notes of distinct tone and timbre, it became clear that Gallace’s painterly repetition signifies not obsession, not compulsion, not the eternal return of the same, but rather the opposite: the waywardness of being, the instability of “the same,” its inability to appear under any circumstances except as the ground of difference.

Still, repetition is always a return. The house and landscape are the same because they inhabit the heaven of memory, and they are different because memory is always in need of repatching. Gallace’s earlier paintings, at once more abstract and blank yet closer to their stylistic reference points in folk art and Sunday painting, were poised on the cusp of formalism and nostalgia, inviting viewers to project onto them the memories that would plausibly fill their blanks. Still veiled in a touching commonness, the new paintings offer some of the more concrete, personalized interpretations demanded by their underlying imagery, as though the artist herself were now projecting personal recollections onto the blank screen of her own previous work—but still without claiming authorial validity for her particular projections. In this sense, they seem to have taken on what was once the viewer’s role in the earlier work.

What hasn’t changed, at least not yet, is the closed condition of the house itself, its monadlike—doorless, windowless—quality. Pure manifestation, it has no interior. White with the blank light of insomnia, occasionally red with the heat of warning, it floats in the landscapes like a bottle on the ocean. If we must encumber it with significance—and how can we help it?—let it not be the irrecoverable house of childhood (which, after all, always has implied an interiority, albeit an often oppressive one) but rather the unattainable sheltering otherness of art itself.

Barry Schwabsky