Hard Attack

When critics clash: Artist Christopher Wool sparks a provocative difference of opinion


Is Reed the Anti-Wool or Color Field's Keeper of the Flame?

David Reed
Max Protetch
511 West 22nd Street
Through December 23

Everything out in the open: The Wool installation at Luhring Augustine
photo: Robin Holland
Everything out in the open: The Wool installation at Luhring Augustine

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Christopher Wool
Luhring Augustine
531 West 24th Street
Through December 23

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    A funny thing happened on my way to review the Christopher Wool show. I discovered that many of the same critics who loathe Wool's work so strenuously overpraise with equal vehemence the work of another painter. Dave Hickey goes so far as to find analogies between this artist's work and Titian's, while Christopher Knight no less temperately summons Pontormo. The recipient of such accolades is none other than David Reed, who coincidentally has a show on view two blocks south of Wool's.

    Titian? Pontormo? Aren't Jules Olitski and Kenneth Noland more to the point? Reed's cake icing swirls and eye-catching fluorescent color are lovely and seductive. Yet I spend most of my time in front of his work basically wondering, "How does he do this?" To his fans, Reed is a keeper of the flame of Color Field painting; his work is about paint as paint, gesture, flatness, and all that other Greenbergian stuff. His work also comes with catchy rationalizations: They're "bedroom paintings," are related to Alfred Hitchcock and vampire films, or represent a new baroque. I think Reed, 58, is important. I respect him for converting the ideas of a number of artists of his generation into something interesting and dramatic. But he hasn't developed or really tried anything new for 15 years. By now, his style has turned academic, and his efforts have been taken up and eclipsed by a number of younger painters.

    I admire how Hickey and Knight put words together. Hickey writes that Reed's work captures "the shimmering drama of flesh and fabric, and the dance of clear gesture and real emotion." Knight describes Reed's paintings as "luscious" and "radiant." But Hickey and Knight are better critics than Reed is an artist. The language they use in their praise of him is as out of proportion to his accomplishment as the scale of their repulsion is to Wool's. J.S.


    jsaltz@villagevoice.com

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