New York

Lynn McCarty, Changing Perception, 2017, oil on aluminum, 30 x 32".

Lynn McCarty, Changing Perception, 2017, oil on aluminum, 30 x 32".

Lynn McCarty

Lynn McCarty, Changing Perception, 2017, oil on aluminum, 30 x 32".

Curator Mark Rosenthal’s magisterial essay “Abstraction in the Twentieth Century”—a text written to accompany an exhibition he organized for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1996—notes the “forbidding appearance” of abstract art. Abstraction, he writes, is peculiarly inaccessible, even intimidating—often “self-contained, and too often hermetic. ” Lynn McCarty’s work serves as a powerful riposte to this statement. Splendidly colorful and intricately formed, her paintings—twenty-one examples of which were on display in this excellent show—are sensuously inviting, emotionally engaging, and seductively exciting.

McCarty’s art has an ecstatic gusto. The works are “created from layers of accumulated ‘pours’ of paint,” she writes, which gives them an uncanny fluidity, all the more uncanny because the painterly surfaces have a haptic quality: The paintings are often “cut, scratched into, carved with sharp tools, providing paint pieces which can be applied to any of the works.” Sometimes her works are beside themselves with turbulence and contradiction. In the brilliant Push, 2017, a torrent of colors blossoms from the bleached, fragmented “bouquet” at the base of the painting. Other times, her paintings perform an incandescent dance of ravishing color. The Morris Louis–esque Changing Perception, 2017, features swaths of semitransparent swaths overlapping in a veritable dance of veils. McCarty’s works can also be “performative,” like Jackson Pollock’s allover paintings. Action Heroes, 2017, for example, is a kinetic tangle of overlaid fields of blacks, yellows, reds, and blues.

The paintings in this show were all oil on aluminum, all 2016 or 2017, most small and compact, a few large and grand. As One II and Soft Black II, both 2016, are relatively small, measuring twenty-four by twenty-four inches and twenty-four by twenty-six inches, respectively. In many instances, such a size would yield an insular, self-contained look. But these works push outward: The oval in the former cracks open like an egg; the curved form in the latter is a ghostly, transient sketch. There are bold contrasts among McCarty’s paintings. Blurred Lines and Passive Painting were both completed in 2017, yet the former is a maze of colors, while the latter is deep brown, with a touch of black. Stiletto, also dated 2017, is luminously white with patches of gray and topped by a sunny yellow—another work showing the range of McCarty’s colors and the intricacy of their interplay. Most strikingly, little splinters “spike” the surface, a sort of visual synonym of the title.

Nothing is foreordained in McCarty’s intricate work: The unexpected relationships among colors and shapes add to the excitement. The three mismatched forms in Spirit, 2017, epitomize McCarty’s romantic daring, the almost reckless exuberance of her peculiarly intimate (and hardly forbidding or hermetic) abstract paintings.

Donald Kuspit