New York

David Rabinowitch, Birth of Romanticism Drawings: Monumental Quatrefoil Diffraction (Quartet for Carrie Lynn and Joseph Haydn), 2010, oil pastel, acrylic, pencil, paper, and collage on Belgian linen, 7' 1/2" x 12'.

David Rabinowitch, Birth of Romanticism Drawings: Monumental Quatrefoil Diffraction (Quartet for Carrie Lynn and Joseph Haydn), 2010, oil pastel, acrylic, pencil, paper, and collage on Belgian linen, 7' 1/2" x 12'.

David Rabinowitch

Peter Blum SoHo

David Rabinowitch, Birth of Romanticism Drawings: Monumental Quatrefoil Diffraction (Quartet for Carrie Lynn and Joseph Haydn), 2010, oil pastel, acrylic, pencil, paper, and collage on Belgian linen, 7' 1/2" x 12'.

The colorful “drawings” in David Rabinowitch’s series “Birth of Romanticism,” 2008–10, are somewhat of a surprise, especially considering that Rabinowitch is known for sober Minimalist sculpture. Indeed, he last made works on paper seriously in 1962—the year he “ceased painting”—and those works, wood-block monotypes, were geometric and Minimalist, if eccentrically so. The pieces here are largely mixed-media compounds of collage, oil paint, pencil, and beeswax, among other materials, and they are even more eccentric. But what is most striking about them is their dynamics, turbulent yet anchored in geometric clarity. They have an Expressionist energy and lyricism, even as recurrent circles and ellipses, many quite large, lend a degree of stability. There are also rectangles, squares, and triangles: all the geometric forms, often intersecting or layered on one another, dividing and complicating the space. And the overlapping collage elements—richly textured flat strips, sometimes canvas, sometimes paper—deepen the works’ complexity.

If Romanticism is a kind of cri de coeur, then Rabinowitch is pouring out his heart in defense of abstraction—which some think is past its prime—and also in defense of love. Indeed, as he tells me, his love of music and sacred architecture (particularly that of the Cistercian order) are mixed together, sometimes inharmoniously. In two of the grandest works in the exhibition—Birth of Romanticism Drawings: Monumental Quatrefoil Diffraction (Quartet for Carrie Lynn and Joseph Haydn), 2010, and Birth of Romanticism Drawings: Quatrefoil Gradient Involution (Quartet for Carrie Lynn and Beethoven), 2009, both suites of four altarpiece-like panels—these themes are evoked by suggestive pure white light and flashes of primary color, which enliven the often darkish ground. Together, the four panels become a musical composition, with each individual collage a member of a quartet.

Music is abstract and expressive, which is why Wassily Kandinsky used it as a “model,” and why Walter Pater called it the “condition” to which “all art constantly aspires.” And music, Rabinowitch suggests, remains abstract painting’s ideal model. Architecture is important too, its geometric patterns representing “concepts.” Rabinowitch’s new works represent a kind of musical architecture, as it were, or they trace the architecture—the geometric “movement”—of music, hinting that it is not as irrational as it can seem. At times the geometric forms seem like high notes in an intense, sometimes murky composition, standing out, as they do, from the matrix of painterly gestures. Elsewhere, Rabinowitch seems also to have been inspired by the grand piano in his studio—a magnificent piece of architecture in its own right, one he regards as sacred and that seems perfectly preserved and cared for. The instrument’s curves and form, sometimes dissected, reappear in some of the works. Invested equally in the realm of reason, represented by geometry, and the realm of emotion and sense, represented by color, Rabinowitch doesn’t seem to think one is more real than the other.

Donald Kuspit