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The Again Men

In art as in life, repetition can be a bore, a comfort, or even a novelty, depending on the context and how it's done. Each summer in Chelsea, for instance, we go from one vaguely defined group show to another, hoping this unvarying process will result in the discovery of something new. At Goff+Rosenthal, you will encounter the novelty of a tightly defined group show, one that brings together three artists who, in utterly different ways, obsessively repeat subject matter.

The Netherlands' Philip Akkerman is perhaps the most fixated. In his career, he has painted only self-portraits—always utilizing the same three-quarter profile and bust-length pose, always with the same pugnacious stare, upturned nose, and meaty lips. And yet, amazingly, no two of the more than 2,500 self-portraits he's turned out look alike: The painting styles change, as do the costumes and, inevitably, the age of the sitter. The nine absorbing canvases on view range from blue-faced expressionism to an almost abstract pointillism. By contrast, the spectrum of alteration in The Lure of Paris, a work that Australian artist Stephen Bush has painted 27 times in the past two decades, is quite narrow. He repaints the image—three toy Babar elephants in differing poses on a rocky promontory jutting into the sea—from his memory of his original. It's a fairly complex composition, and yet the two versions here are extraordinarily similar despite minor variations. For his rotulista (sign-painter) series, the Belgian-born resident of Mexico Francis Alÿs hires local sign painters to reproduce—in whatever format they chose—one of his paintings, which are displayed with the originals. In each of the two sets here, Al painting tends to look rougher than the polished, though generally more rigid, copies.

It's somehow a comfort knowing that so much suspense can be built from the subtle fluctuation of details, be they from the hand of Bush, Akkerman, or a rotulista. And it's never a bore.


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