New York

Alexi Worth

Bill Maynes Gallery

“Gerberman at Large,” Alexi Worth’s recent short series of paintings, follows the romantic trajectory of a character who, being balding, bespectacled, and middle-aged, looks a little like me, though maybe somewhat more feckless (I would like to think). Gerberman hangs out ungracefully in the art world—in three of the five paintings he is at an opening, strikingly at sea among the little black dresses—and it struck me that the series might be an artist’s ironic self-portrait. So I asked my editor (Worth writes for Artforum in addition to being a painter) whether this was so. Oh no, I was told, Alexi is handsome. Since I, of course, am handsome too, Gerberman can’t look as much like me as I thought.

I may have been hoping the works were self-portraits, though, because that would have clarified Worth’s attitude toward his character. Gerberman seems to me a benign misfit. Solitary, a mite shabby, resolutely cheerful, he suggests a guy who got on the train of life slightly late, and is trying a bit hopelessly to catch up, but whose visibility is in doubt. At least he has no malice in him. The paintings (all from 2002) imply a narrative: In the first, Ascent, our hero is alone in an elevator, holding a bouquet wrapped in a swirl of lavender paper that hides both the flowers and much of his face. All we can see is a mismatched suit jacket and trousers, a pastel tie, glasses, and Gerberman’s prominent, luminously bald pate. We might also notice that he wears no wedding ring. In the next three works, Tangent, Sightline, and Sip, he is at the gallery where the elevator presumably dropped him. Was he meeting a date? If so, she hasn’t shown. He squeezes into the spaces between more glamorous people, young women with a lot of bare skin. With his jacket and tie, we now see, he wears a pair of Nikes. Worth shows us his face only once; he is otherwise part hidden or turns away—most definitively in Sip, where he stares tightly into the room’s corner. Finally, Summit looks like a fantasy: Having shed his Nikes to go barefoot, Gerberman approaches a pensively guitar-strumming hippie chick on some verdant hilltop of the mind.

Worth makes canny use of the proportions of his small-scale canvases, and his subtly geometric arrangements are calculated to bring home each image’s point. In Sightline, for example, a vertical rift between two women in the foreground reveals Gerberman wedged in behind them, as if clinging to the side of a cliff; all three hold plastic cups of wine, which form a neat and pointed triangle. Plastic cups reappear in Tangent, glimpsed along with Gerberman through the gaps in a cadenced wall of female breasts, buttocks, and coiffures. Worth reminds me here of R. Crumb, not only in the weight he gives women, who dwarf and are indifferent to his little male lead, but in his slightly cartoony treatment of form. I also enjoyed such devices as the children’s book color, and the idea of the sequence of vectors—Ascent, Tangent, Sightline—that lead up to Sip, where Gerberman finally has a drink; then suddenly, having imbibed, he reaches a destination, Summit’s sunlit dream.

I do wonder, though, what Worth really thinks about Gerberman. After all: we know that Alexi is handsome. He is quite well connected as well: Running through his clippings file, I several times stumbled on reviews of his shows from the glossies that included such phrases as, “Worth, who regularly writes in these pages . . . ” (I’ve adapted that sentence myself). Worth would seem to share little with his protagonist—which makes me curious about the balance in these works between identification and condescension. Not that that balance would undercut them visually, but it might make them less innocent than they look.

David Frankel