Larry Poons at Danese
until March 17
535 West 24th Street 6th Floor, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, 212 223 2227
A version of this article first appeared in the New York Sun, March 15, 2007
The oeuvre of Larry Poons represents a case of painterly bipolarity. It is hard to think of an artist who veers towards such extremes of serenity and chaos, prettiness and vulgarity. As if to dramatize the split, the early work was characterized by flatness and finesse while subsequent developments included such wayout thickness and integration of alien textures that his garish canvases achieved extraterrestrial weirdness. One possible point of comparison would be with his fellow second generation (post-painterly) Abstract Expressionist Jules Olitski who also oscillated from “ineluctible flatness” to use the phrase of the two artists’ critic-champion Clement Greenberg to loony impasto.
In his new body of work, Mr. Poons seems to enjoy some measure of equilibrium. There is thickly churned swirls of paint, but there is also a new-found lyricism that recalls the seductive charm of his early flat abstraction. The title of one of the works, “Could You Love Me One More Time,” (2005) almost seems an appeal to early formalist enthusiasts to forgive the romantic excesses of the intervening years.
The palette and brushstroke are consistent through this exhibition of generally large, busy canvases. There is an underlying range of organic hues – browns and greens – accentuated by generous dolops of contrastive pink and blue. These colors inevitably bring the late landscapes of Pierre Bonnard to mind, although the artist whose color range they more closely resemble is fellow American Louis Finkelstein. While completely abstract, there is a sense of narrative as the eye reads the canvas as if a calligraphy scroll in a way that recalls Jackson Pollock’s “Mural” (1943). Bizarrely, however, the agitated sexuality of these paintings mostly brings to mind a younger contemporary of Mr. Poons’s with whom one would not instinctively compare him: Cecily Brown. These paintings look like Browns with the figures and old master references removed.