New York

Marco Neri

Lucas Schoormans

Marco Neri’s cityscapes and architectures are simultaneously spare and lush. Rendered in tempera, the pictures’ matte black surfaces look plain but act rich—the paint is thin and flat but profoundly light-absorbent, dark with an unshowy completeness that makes the pâte of oil seem grandiose by comparison. Arranged in largely rectilinear systems across these opaque expanses are white markings geometric enough to remain bars and rectangles, stripes and circles, even while they coalesce into nighttime views of the modern city. For the most part regular, hard-edged, and dense, these whites can also melt into washy, patchy areas and thinly painted stretches where their outlines soften and waver, and the black beneath them shows through to make them gray. This particular group is dominated by black and white, yet their simple but careful variations produce intricate sensations of visual depth.

In Mars Black (all works 2005), the most tenebrous of all these pictures and named for the black pigment Neri uses, the neat circles scattered in other works become a grid of small, uneven dots that together evoke an apartment or office building at night. A single, more widely spaced row of dots at the bottom of the grid seems to set the building on a street with a row of streetlamps, introducing a sense of both place and distance through the simplest of means. In another context—a show of strict geometric abstraction, say—this reading might come more slowly; Mars Black is a kind of pun: an illusion, an abstraction, and material paint on canvas all at the same time. In this it plays a game that goes back to the beginnings of modernist painting, in fact a game intrinsic to painting as an art. Some play it more consciously than others; Neri makes it central. What is rewarding in his work is not so much the fact of the game, which many engage in, as the style of it.

There is a mischievous humor in some of Neri’s reductions, as when, in pictures outside the main group in this exhibition, the horizontal lines that elsewhere suggest the floors of buildings, or perhaps the slats of a blind, become the stripes of a flag or the lines of text in a book. The pattern of squares in Porto (Port), too, may relate back to earlier, chessboardlike works that Neri has described as nods to Marcel Duchamp, a constant joker who similarly made the layering of thought involved in the pun a basic principle of his art. The more important tone in this group, though, is not humorous but moody and evocative. It emerges most clearly in the more ambiguous works—not Porto or the smaller of the two paintings titled Cityscape, which show Neri at his most descriptive, but Mars Black, the larger Cityscape, and, above all, three works each titled Window. Here those sets of stripes or bars—by the modest device of a ninety-degree twist from horizontal to vertical—become windows seen from the outside dark, with light showing through shutters or curtains. The hand is played with the same cards as elsewhere: loosely geometric arrangements of black, white, and grays, in simple but considered orchestrations that are completely self-explanatory. The mysteriousness of the result is a magician’s trick.

David Frankel