New York

Jonathan Lasker, The Plus Sign at Golgotha, 2014, oil on linen, 60 × 80".

Jonathan Lasker, The Plus Sign at Golgotha, 2014, oil on linen, 60 × 80".

Jonathan Lasker

Jonathan Lasker, The Plus Sign at Golgotha, 2014, oil on linen, 60 × 80".

When visual invention becomes an afterthought in favor of ever-more-prolix theoretical justifications, even the most lauded examples of conceptual painting can eventually outlive their novelty, becoming at best inflexible demonstrations of a theme or motif. Not so for Jonathan Lasker’s work, which is always evolving. Indeed, in the past few years, he has introduced a new element to his work: the grid. This structure is the lodestar of the avant-garde and alternately its bête noire—Rosalind Krauss accused it of ghettoizing modern painting. In several paintings on view in this show, a quadrille-ruled canvas allows Lasker to highlight his own comfort navigating among the poles of painting, his ability to hold in tandem its contradictory impulses. Indeed, his works have previously been described as having a kind of frozen spontaneity.

A case in point is The Plus Sign at Golgotha, 2014, which features three forms, each defined by a distinct palette and type of mark-making: a cluster of marks that hold a central core; marks that undulate like gestures; and marks that disappear because they constitute a form, a plus sign or cross. From left to right, the first set of marks is made up of secondary colors; the next of primary ones; and the third, the cross, of pastel pink and blue. Each form sits in an anterior relationship to another on a two-tiered platform, and the grid highlights their perspectival relationship on the platform in a manner that recalls that of the figures in Perugino’s The Delivery of the Keys, 1481–82. In Renaissance painting, one-point perspective allowed a temporal unfolding of a spiritual moment; distance between foreground, middle ground, and background could delineate the passage of time. The grid, meanwhile, presents a continual now, a material present. With this work, Lasker gives us both perspective and the grid—which simultaneously bolster and hinder one another—and thereby evokes the long history of painting and its diverging associations between distance and time.

In The Plus Sign at Golgotha, the shapes on this conveyor belt appear as pure forms, and also as signs that stand for other meanings, an oscillation between presentation and representation. We are left to enjoy the pink glow of the plus sign’s cruciform shape but can simultaneously appreciate its metaphorical—which is to say discursive—resonance, the way it signifies the biblical scene of the Crucifixion. By itself, this interplay could become the ossified maneuvers of an intelligent artist; however, Lasker’s piquancy lies in his constant undermining of a unified logic of what constitutes “great” painting, a move that reverberates in our imperfect world.

In For John Hancock, 2013, for instance, Lasker painted a thick impasto orange-green-purple squiggle, presumably a signature. A grid of eighteen smaller versions of the same squiggle (all but one of them black) serves as backdrop. Laid down flat like a screen print, these smaller notations evoke mechanical reproduction while the larger line emphatically signifies “painting.” At left and suspended above, a dark scribble emulates a rubout, a residue of erasure, and an anomaly in Lasker’s meticulously preplanned works. It reads like a glitch, an opportunity to see time caught between two ways of figuring.

Andrianna Campbell