New York

Laurie Fendrich

Katharina Rich Perlow Gallery

There’s an almost irksome attractiveness to Laurie Fendrich’s abstract paintings, a certain cleverness in their manipulation of fields of color. Sometimes these areas are large and are composed of curves and planes. These are juxtaposed with smaller patchwork grids and strips laid out like an unfolded spectrum. The abrupt shift in scale adds to the paintings’ spatial complexity and perceptual excitement. But the integration of these elements is not entirely convincing—the aesthetic point seems lost in the clutter, and intricacy seems to have been introduced for its own sake.

Fendrich’s works usually have a displaced center, and some of the planar edges are fuzzy or unfocused; W. B. Yeats’s famous lines “The centre cannot hold. . . . The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity” come to mind. Fendrich’s color conveys a passionate intensity; it’s also where her conviction is located. Otherwise, her paintings are about not holding together, or at least the difficulty of holding together, or perhaps quasi-holding together—a simulated (or it is superficial?) unity based on the belief that the tension (or is it friction?) generated by juxtaposition is a kind of binding glue. But juxtaposition, particularly as an end in itself, is not dialectics.

The point is made clearly by The Glasgow School of Art, 2005. The school is housed in a remarkable early-modern building by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, so one assumes that the grand white arch in Fendrich’s painting has something to do with the building’s facade, and that the painting as a whole is concerned with the brilliantly complicated dialectics of open space and structural geometry in the famous library. Though the fact of the matter is that Fendrich works entirely abstractly, titling her paintings after the fact, the impression that is conveyed here is that the artist has tried to emulate the school’s cloistered modernist look but failed in the attempt. One can’t help but note the extent to which its space/structure interplay, however dynamic, lacks the nuanced care for detail exhibited by Mackintosh. More crucially, the picture’s simple arch and elaborate color grid are never reconciled, and the painting ultimately falls into parts. The dynamics of its components’ discrepancy—their illfittingness—is initially engaging but finally falls flat, the arch becoming just another fl at piece of a puzzle-picture. Fendrich’s painting may be as ingenious as Mackintosh’s structure, perhaps even more so, but it lacks its subtle cohesiveness.

The paintings’ whimsical titles—The Rustling of the Gown and A Frame Around the Dog, both 2006, for example—are borrowed from phrases in songs by American cabaret singer Karen Akers. And while the former might make some feminist or feminine point, while the latter gives abstract forms figurative import, they don’t really help; such considerations only draw attention away from the aesthetic shortcomings of the paintings themselves. More simply amusing than genuinely evocative, whether or not one is aware of their source, they add little in the way of emotional substance.

Reprises are rarely as convincing as what they reprise—with loss of authenticity comes a certain falling off of purpose and meaning, a certain decadence. Fendrich’s paintings are engaging as decoration; they might work well as stained glass in a neo-formalist church. They in fact summarize the innovations of her formalist predecessors: There are echoes of Kasimir Malevich and Ellsworth Kelly, of El Lissitzky and Ilya Bolotowsky, even of Wassily Kandinsky’s late geometrical abstractions. Fendrich is a latter-day constructivist, working in two dimensions—her planes seem to fl oat in space, generating a memorably peculiar relieflike effect. These paintings are lovely to look at but remain passing fancies.

Donald Kuspit