Magazine article Artforum International

Jonathan Lasker

Magazine article Artforum International

Jonathan Lasker

Article excerpt

ROSE MUSEUM, BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY, WALTHAM, MA

Jonathan Lasker once told me he thought the Minimalists had been trying to make an art without metaphor, and in fact had succeeded; but the point having been proved, he continued, there's no longer any urgent motivation to produce more metaphor-free work. But neither, I would add, is there any special reason to create metaphor-laden art--that is, unless the metaphors carry conviction. Lasker's paintings puzzle over precisely this question: what's credible in painting, for now, and why. Each element in his compositions is a stylized quotation or codification of a gesture or image that has already appeared somewhere in the history of modernism, and usually also in Lasker's own oeuvre. Yet while his project is not unrelated to that of the appropriationists of his generation, neither is it fundamentally in accord with it. Lasker retains too many traces of that pesky old existential anxiety, too much of the aroma of some distant but not forgotten naturalism, to qualify for their Cool Club.

At the same time, for all its echoes of abstractions past, Lasker's work is doggedly self-contained. It has undergone no dramatic changes in the twenty years he has been exhibiting. Subtle shifts, yes--but their duree is too longue to show up very clearly. Curator David Moos's survey, though arbitrarily limited to the artist's output during the past decade, is sufficient to demonstrate that the unmistakable "Lasker" signature is not so much a style (though it's that too) as it is a system.

Lasker's compositions are completely worked out in advance in postcard-size color sketches, a number of which are included in the show. So while the paintings are constantly quoting AbEx-type gesturalism, there is actually no improvisation at work in them, no surrender to spontaneous impulse. More important, a consistent grammar seems to govern the disposition of pictorial elements from canvas to canvas. This grammar revolves around the complementarity of figure and ground. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it works the destabilizing interplay between such a binary conception of pictorial construction and a threefold conception based on the terms background, middle ground, and foreground. In the most recent painting shown here, Conspicuous Absence, 1999, a large central rectangular figure, roughly painted in thick impasto, sits on a white ground. (Lasker's impasto must have a patent on it, by the way: Almost graphic in effect, frosting-thick but somehow never painterly, it's always about image, never material. …

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