new-york

View of “Dona Nelson,” 2014.

Dona Nelson

Thomas Erben Gallery

View of “Dona Nelson,” 2014.

In an interview twenty years ago, Dona Nelson praised the messiness of late Picasso, describing it as evidence of a “total confidence” that allowed him to do whatever without self-questioning, without looking back. And then she went on to point out that “[Sigmar] Polke has that kind of confidence.” Even before I’d read that old interview, the affinity between Nelson and Polke, one very American and the other sehr deutsch, was nonetheless patent. Granted, Nelson lacks Polke’s reach, but both artists tend to throw all caution to the wind in a way that can sometimes induce something close to pure exhilaration. How often is it, really, that you come across a painting that makes you suspect that the person who made it really didn’t give a damn about how it would look? Nelson sometimes goes beyond the merely funky to plumb the depths of the truly gnarly. She delights in textures that

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