New York

Fiona Rae

PaceWildenstein 22

It’s hard not to see Fiona Rae’s paintings as pastiches of the work of Sigmar Polke and David Salle, with some burly Schnabelesque gestures and lavish Pollock-like splashes thrown in. Hers is a sort of Punch-and-Judy act that tries hard to be ironic theater but ends up an ersatz Fantasia. There’s also a discrepancy between the titles and the works themselves: The former promise a big thrill, the latter offer only mild titillation—coy allusions to aesthetic bliss that never reach a climax. It’s like a simulated sex act, a ritualized performance. Theodor Adorno once wrote that in a false world all pleasure is false; the pleasure in Rae’s painting is false in this sense—cosmetically pleasing rather than emotionally prickly, sloppily beautiful rather than eloquently harmonious.

I’m learning to fly!!, 2006, is typical, a facile mix of the corny, the cute, and the cartoony—little hearts (black to give them an anti-Valentine edginess), toylike Disney creatures—and leftover gesturalism, against a grid of sky-blue tiles seemingly derived from René Magritte. The gestures and the grid constitute the predictable nods to high modernism, while the commercialized pop-culture symbols indicate postmodern cleverness. It’s all good fun, but makes for an all-too-knowing hodgepodge of visual platitudes. In Kiss! You will be instantly charmed by me . . ., 2005, a froth of powder-blue specks emerges from behind a stylized cloud of black glitter, while a silhouetted tree branch curls in from the top right-hand corner and other foliage, in pale outline, winds across the picture from the opposite side. Scattered across the image is a loose constellation of stars and geometrical floral shapes that stand out against the purple-and-gray-green ground. (Rae is an interesting colorist.)

The balmy lushness of Keep doing the thing which one wants to do very hard, 2006—Rae has a penchant for the pseudotropical—seems to mock the promise of happiness that Stendhal thought art offered. It’s a sort of end-of-the-movie happiness for Rae, as the make-believe flowers—they look like paper cutouts—in Double Happiness, 2006, suggest. Baudelaire called art an artificial paradise; in Rae’s paintings it has become a paradise of “artiness.” Rae came to prominence as a member of the Saatchi-supported “Sensation” group, but the sensations her new paintings offer are stale indeed. Her sensationalism has become “motionless Alexandrianism,” as Clement Greenberg called it; that is, the mechanical repetition of cliché.

Donald Kuspit