New York

John McLaughlin

Pace Wildenstein

For far too long, John McLaughlin’s superbly austere paintings have been reduced by being contextualized within the narrow frame of Asian art history, particularly fifteenth-century Japanese brush painting. Favoring only one part of McLaughlin’s biography—his passion far all things Eastern, from his love of Asian antiquities, which for part of his professional life he dealt, to the several years he spent in Japan and his fluency in Japanese—disregards most of his work’s radical innovations by exoticizing them. While that tradition certainly played a formative role in the development of his severe aesthetic, the resulting (thornily American) work shows a lifelong investigation of a culture more akin to Roland Barthes’s “empire of signs.”

In his essay of that title, Barthes delineated a system of representation that would never claim “to represent or analyze reality itself.” Calling this

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