Magazine article Artforum International

Sean Scully

Magazine article Artforum International

Sean Scully

Article excerpt

GALERIE LELONG/DANESE

Sean Scully's concurrent shows proved that abstraction is not dead. The work on view was neither reprise nor parody but the carrying forward of those abstract staples of modernism - geometry and gesture - to new aesthetic heights. At Galerie Lelong, the artist presented two contrastlng series (all works 1998), the four large canvases that make up his "Walls of Light," along with two examples of his unusual "Floating Paintings," which project from the wall perpendicularly rather than resting flat against it. At Danese, Scully exhibited five medium-size paintings displaying formal similarities to the "Wall of Light" series. These works at once epitomize the essentials of abstraction and give them what one might call, both literally and figuratively, new depth. If, as the Parisian philosopher Eugene Minkowski eloquently stated, "the dimension in depth never allows us to know ourselves totally," then the mysterious dimension in depth that Scully achieves here suggests that we can never know the expressive and metaphysical implications of abstraction completely.

The best abstract painting always remains peculiarly enigmatic: It can never be reduced to its techniques, however conspicuous they may be, nor simplified to some one-dimensional meaning. (Rothko said that his own paintings were not planes of color but tragic emotions. To see them objectively was to miss their subjective complexity.) Scully reminds us that abstract painting is the grand climax of the romantic pursuit of the ineffable, and he achieves a sense of tangible intangibility through two methods. On the one hand, ingenious overpainting creates a certain murky atmosphere, for the shadow of the lower layers seems to fall across the upper layer, so that there is no conclusive surface - no clear difference between outer and inner - but a kind of painterly quicksand. …

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