New York

Tim Litzmann

Mary Boone Gallery | Uptown

Tim Litzmann lists the medium of his pictures as “acrylic/cast acrylic,” and at first I wondered whether this wordplay meant he had developed a way to set acrylic paint in a solid sheet, to which he then strategically applied acrylic in its usual form-making paint both the medium and the support. That way the works’ color would actually constitute their very stuff, rather than remain a superficial veneer laid over another material. In fact, though, cast acrylic seems to be a Plexiglas-like substance, which Litzmann cuts to size. Then he paints the back in one color and the object’s bare perpendicular edges in another, and abrade; the front surface to reduce its transparency. Even so, the result looks pretty much as if it were what I had imagined it was: a milky mono-chrome panel in which color is apparently integral, embedded in the support rather than applied to it. The edges of each work have a halolike effect: The paint on the sides at right angles to the plane casts a faint glow through a narrow, almost immediately fading band of the adjoining translucent ground, so that a painting that is mainly undifferentiated yellow is touched at its very outer limits with orange-to-pink-to-red, like an empty morning sky peripherally marked by rosy-fingered dawn.

The conceptual backdrop to these paintings, which appear as single panels and in diptych and triptych arrangements, might be the writing of Clement Greenberg and the formalism of the ’50s and early ’60s. No matter what painters you might have thought had taken the discourse of flatness to its limit, Litzmann at the very least matches them. And while radicality was once ascribed to Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis because they worked on unprimed canvases, so that the medium fused with the support rather than sitting on top of it, Litzmann just about creates the illusion of painting without a medium at all, as though a new support material had done away with the need to put anything on it. Meanwhile, the good-size art audience that doesn’t give a damn about flatness anymore might look at these works more experientially: Neither transparent nor opaque but somewhere in between, these thicknesses of color, set in their subtle and slender frames of a different hue, have an ambiguous shallowness and depth, an equivocation between pure surface and infinite distance that taps into the long-standing meditative and even mystical connotations of the monochrome. They have something of the quality of Brice Marden’s waxy grays of the ’60s, and a more distant ancestor might be Mark Rothko, who similarly experimented with the emotional affects and effects of planar rectangles enclosed by colored bands—bands that Litzmann retains but shrinks into literal marginalia.

The excitable tone of Abstract Expressionism, of course, is not Litzrnann’s aim; contemplative and quiet, his art has a machinist post-Minimal cool. Having evoked Rothko, though, it may need a little more sense of emotional and imaginative imperative than it has. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time at Home Depot over the years, but another thing Litzmann’s work reminded me of was the fuss that was made of the kitchen-counter material Corian when it first came out: the color, you will remember, went all the way through. Instead of a veneer that might crack or peel, leaving an unsightly scar, Corian was solid color to its heart, so that any dents or scratches would just reveal more of the same. Litzmann’s paintings actually look a bit like Corian, and they too address a thorny old problem and even nudge it along some. But I doubt that an advance on Formica, useful and handsome though it may be, was what the artist had in mind.

David Frankel