New York

Peter Doig

Gavin Brown's enterprise | 620 Greenwich Street

Peter Doig has been lauded for his quietly mysterious, gauzily nostalgic landscapes executed in an eclectic range of styles, sometimes within a single work. Bringing to mind rigorous types like Gerhard Richter and Jeff Wall, as well as softies such as Richard Diebenkorn and David Hockney, Doig’s crowd-pleasing canvases remain resolutely neither here nor there. It’s curious and a little heartwarming that, in this pluralistic but nonetheless sectarian moment, there’s a niche for such an artist (especially a painter). Yet, based solely on this show of four large paintings, in which Doig seems to have stitched out the hookier narrative threads of his earlier work, it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about.

Country-rock (wing-mirror) (all works 1999) is a layered landscape of the ambivalent, half-bucolic, half-industrial Andreas Gursky variety: titular wing mirror and highway in foreground, guardrail and tunnel in middle ground, lush small town in background. It is a snapshot from a car trip. One is left shifting from foot to foot in anticipation of an epiphany that’s never going to occur. Now, this, the moment when it all adds up (or is on the threshold of adding up), might be precisely what Doig is withholding. There’s often a grainy, the-drugs-are-kicking-in atmosphere in his otherwise bland scenes—weird colors are everywhere (a powdery, nearly Naples yellow highway; a muted chartreuse sky)—but in this case, “the pills,” as Ted Berrigan once wrote, “aren’t working.”

In purely formal terms, The heart of Old San Juan, a painting of an empty outdoor basketball court, is the most impressive. The posts and backboards and boundary lines create a pleasing geometric force field (think Robert Mangold for Sports Illustrated). But, as in Briey (interior), seemingly an homage to Diebenkorn, there’s simply too little going on, and the note of bright-eyed emptiness that Doig seems intent on striking resounds all too clearly.

These paintings suggest that Doig is trying to wean himself off the gimmicky aspects of his earlier works and, finding nothing yet to take their place, is settling for the remainder. But if that’s the case then he relapses in Figure in mountain landscape (I love you big dummy), a watery mountainscape in which a hooded, maguslike figure sits before an easel, back to the viewer. This is the Painter as anachronistic oaf, his heroic activity rendered vaguely risible. It ushers me back into the world of the Ursula Le Guin novels I read in high school in which fate-burdened wizards work out their magic destinies. But in the Doig the sappiness of the pleasure is made palatable by the irony. If on the whole here Doig is overstating his understatement, he is still interested in broader gestures. He seems to be at a crossroads of sorts between the two tendencies.

Thad Ziolkowski