Schwabsky, Barry, Artforum International
Pat Steir's new paintings, exhibited under the Goethean title "Elective Affinities," continue to rehearse the abstractly generated waterfall imagery that has preoccupied her for the last several years. As before, a vehement, loaded stroke at the top of the canvas allows thinned paint to drip down, evoking falling water, while below some flung splashes a la early Norman Bluhm represent the water's upward splash. What's new is that Steir has renounced the grisaille to which this series had been confined in favor of intense--not to say lurid--color. In one sense, however, Steir's use of color remains limited: with one exception, she doles these colors out just two to a canvas, one for the ground, one for the splashes.
Steir's earlier work, culminating in The Breughel Series--A Vanitas of Style, 1982-84, replicated the stylistic procedures of Western and Asian artworks ranging from the 14th to the 20th century. She seems to have discovered through this research that all styles are equivalent. As she says in an interview accompanying her recent show, "I found no difference in process between abstraction and figuration." I'd say this is exactly the wrong lesson--proof that Steir touched only superficial levels of the styles she was mimicking. Style is the necessary result of the weight of nearly irresistible cultural and historical pressures against the specificity of an almost immovable individual need. Steir may have moved from eclecticism to reduction, but this shift only makes it clearer that there is no style, no ineluctable point of view here. …