New York

Michael Raedecker

Andrea Rosen Gallery

Since he first attracted notice some five years ago, Michael Raedecker has rightfully been admired for his distinctive coupling of homespun materials and the “high” practice of painting. Often he has used thread and yarn to “sketch” the contours of the generic modern landscape—say, an empty driveway bordered with well-spaced, overly pruned trees—consistently revealing the formal qualities inherent, if rarely considered, in string (known, of course, to the Renaissance painters who regularly employed it for perspective studies). Layered onto a thick application of paint, Raedecker’s strands—thin and shimmery or fat and fuzzy—elegantly describe spare lines in space, though their unshakable “craftiness” hints at one of modernism’s most repressed elements: the domestic.

In Raedecker’s most recent exhibition, summarily titled “that’s the way it is,” these dissident strains were far more in evidence. He’d swapped an icy, bloodless palette for one of humid hues (salmon pink, coral orange); his subject matter now included still lifes and portraits, genres rarely compatible with aspirations to distance or indifference. Cotton and wool often left line and plane behind for more “decorative” behaviors—here miming bristly facial hair, there simulating weeds that had burrowed through tarmac. The still lifes could have been memento mori—crab walk, 2003, includes an intricately stitched cigarette, the eponymous crustacean, and a grinning double-handled vase—while the portraits were queasily rendered, gunked-up imitations of works by Renaissance masters like del Sarto.

It’s hardly novel for an artist to employ textile: as a critical step “within” painting (like Robert Rauschenberg) or as out-and-out resistance to the historically classed and gendered elitism of the medium (like Rosemarie Trockel’s knit canvases of the ’80s). Still, discussions of Raedecker’s work have typically granted the artist an exemption from the considerations of class and gender that would seem implicit in his materials. “I am on the edge of kitsch, but I don’t want to make kitschy paintings. I don’t want to be that explicit,” Raedecker has stated regarding the cultural associations his paintings invite. One wonders if, for an artist like Trockel or Ghada Amer, more than a simple disclaimer would be required to dissociate such materials from readings beginning and ending on the sewing-room floor.

In Raedecker’s latest work, the tension he’d set up previously between form and content literally unraveled. The paintings were messier, loopier, louder, and less well behaved. In 1972, Leo Steinberg, himself complicating the form/content dichotomy, coined the term “optical oscillation” to describe what one experienced while standing in front of a good painting, modern or old master. Simply put, a successful canvas stubbornly reminds viewers that it’s two-dimensional while at the same time seductively suggesting a kind of third dimension. Raedecker has always engaged in material oscillations, asking thread to behave as pigment and calling on traditionally “low” means to produce “high” ends. Now that the artist has, however unwittingly, fallen squarely onto more postmodern concerns of class and gender, his works no longer oscillate smoothly—indeed, they seem to stutter. Yet it is this imperfect oscillation that, with or without the artist’s consent, makes their new tension even more compelling.

Johanna Burton