Pattern & Dissipation

This exhibition shows Schumann perfecting his techniques and inventing some new ones, but it also suggests he's in trouble. Nomadsresembles a Cy Twombly that has been scrambled in a Pop accelerator. It also looks a lot like a Jean-Michel Basquiat. Hundreds of images vie for attention, scores of words dot the surface, scraps of paper are collaged to the canvas, and biomorphic blobs and chains are painted here and there. But Schumann has the opposite problem of Taaffe's: the pictures in Nomadsnever turn into a painting; they remain details. After a while—and this happens much too often—you don't even care if they mean anything.

Constellation, all black and white, looks like a giant, undulating crossword puzzle on amphetamines. Thousands of little squares are filled with letters, spelling out words and phrases like multiplex, mimosa, cabala, you have messages, trembling like a leaf, ten most wanted. This work is an analog for how Schumann makes a painting: bit by bit and part by part, segments form, then have to be fitted in. Nothing is known at the outset; the result is as much happenstance as it is hard work. The best thing about Constellationis its gyrating, Piranesian structure. It's a one-off tour de force. Even so, there are very few moments of linguistic serendipity, the words form almost no associative chains, and the painting loses momentum.

Details

Philip Taaffe
Gagosian Gallery
136 Wooster Street
Through June 26

Christian Schumann
Postmasters
459 West 19th Street
Through June 19

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Finally, in Good Sport (a portrait of a goofy farmer) and Dairyland (a picture of a bionic cow standing in a vaguely Japanese, pastel-colored landscape), Schumann takes on cohesive images. These are the paintings that come closest to Peter Saul, Kenny Scharf, or Chicago Imagists like Carl Wirsum, Barbara Rossi, and Jim Nutt. While they may be the least successful pictures in the show, Schumann at last stands behind a single representation, his moments become more meaningful, and we get to see his imagination out in the open, where it belongs.

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