New York

Joanne Greenbaum

D'Amelio Terras

With her debut solo exhibition, Joanne Greenbaum bolsters drawing’s claim as a privileged field of operations for contemporary artists. Not that her works don’t cut it as paintings: the salon scale, brilliant use of color, and commanding compositions of these seven abstractions (all works 1996), all untitled oils on canvas, not only speak to the artist’s accomplishments as a painter, but, in their lack of addenda (sculptural, photographic, textual, or otherwise) evince a decided dedication to the medium. Yet the innovative quality of Greenbaum’s work has everything to do with drawing and its possibilities. Traditionally a vehicle of exploration and study, drawing is perhaps implicitly more open-ended, more inviting of speculation than painting. Historically, it incorporates cartoons, games, plotting schemes, decorative hobbies, tattoos, and script, along with the subversive spirit and good humor that underlie these forms of expression. Today, drawing seems to embody the uncertainty of our moment in the wake of modernity’s dissembled master narratives. In short, it allows a serious painter to go on with her work while sidestepping the polemics regarding the medium’s history.

Drawing manifests itself in Greenbaum’s paintings in a number of ways, most conspicuously through her sparse, linear marks. Dots, hatched lines, bubbles, and curlicues float on great expanses of white ground, but only hesitatingly do they cluster or form patterns, breaking apart as quickly they come together, shrinking back on themselves, simply failing to be expansive. Her entropic arrangements are the antithesis of the allover webs and veils of Modernist abstraction, with its attendant implication that the painting extends endlessly and metaphysically beyond the canvas. Greenbaum’s paintings are just plain pictures, self-generated and self-contained, exploded drawings on big sheets of canvas-as-paper.

They are also characterized by a sense of play, occasionally poking fun at the more serious protagonists of Modern abstraction. What one might read as cartoon sketches of Donald Judd’s staggered wall units appear disembodied and hemmed in by a fancy fence-work of blue arabesques; wet wads of magenta shoot at but fail to penetrate this enclosure. In some works, Greenbaum spins out and tacks down form in a manner reminiscent of embroidery; elsewhere, her lines are both the color and weight of thick acrylic yarn. She orchestrates a decorative but sublime battle of the sexes with curls and circles constantly bumping up against angles and lines, or bubbly zygotes swarming toward a staid square reminiscent of early Frank Stella. But it’s good-natured strife, foreplay feuding between intelligent characters who agree to disagree, a sort of painter’s version of the classic movie Pat and Mike, where coach Spencer Tracy and athlete Katherine Hepburn spur each other on. One might even see Greenbaum’s art as the Pat and Mike progeny of Philip Guston and Agnes Martin, Carroll Dunham and Mary Heilmann: serenely comic, daftly drawn paintings.

Ingrid Schaffner