Thursday, June 29th, 2006

Ron Gorchov: Double Trouble at MoMA P.S. 1

This review from 2006. first published in The New York Sun, is included in our series, A TOPICAL PICK FROM THE ARCHIVE to mark the opening of a new show of Gorchov paintings at Cheim & Read Gallery, Chelsea.  See Listings for details.

June 25 to November 20, 2006
22-25 Jackson Avenue at 46 Avenue, Queens, 718-784-2084

Ron Gorchov Ulysses 1979 oil on Linen, 60 x 59 x 14 inches Collection of Julian Schnabel, Courtesy PS1/MoMA
Ron Gorchov, Ulysses 1979 oil on Linen, 60 x 59 x 14 inches Collection of Julian Schnabel, Courtesy PS1/MoMA

Ron Gorchov can lay claim to a rare achievement: He has created a distinctive form without becoming formulaic. Eleven of the 27 works in his show on the top floor of P.S.1 are painted on a similarly shaped, immediately recognizable idiosyncratic support, and within a close-knit family of motifs. The remainder are smaller canvases painted with vertical stripes.  Yet far from coming across as repetitive, the show is charged and sprightly.

“Double Trouble” brings together works from the 1970s and from the last five years in Mr. Gorchov’s trademark idiom: oil paint on linen, crudely stapled to a curved wooden stretcher. Organised by P.S.1’s founder and director, Alanna Heiss, the show is something of a homecoming for Mr. Gorchov: He was included in the museum’s inaugural 1976 exhibition, “Rooms,” when Ms. Heiss brought her Institute of Art and Urban Resources to the disused Queens public school building that is now a MoMA affiliate. The artist also had a solo show there in 1979.

“Double Trouble” is a title that, like Mr. Gorchov’s work, operates from different angles. On one level, his work operates both on sculptural and painterly terms, rather like Elizabeth Murray’s expressively shaped supports. More specifically, the Gorchov shape, which has been compared variously to a saddle, a mask, and a shield, curves in such a way as to be both concave and convex, as it is bent twice, top to bottom and side to side, rather like the plywood seat of an Eames chair. And his pared-down vocabulary is very fond of forms in pairs — without his quite being a dualist. In this context, double trouble is an addiction that an aesthete is only too proud to admit to, like girl trouble.

Mr. Gorchov had been off the scene for a long time — the show leapfrogs the 1980s and ’90s — when was brought back to art-world attention last year with a show organized in a temporary downtown space by the young impresario Vito Schnabel. His main room at P.S.1, like the office space Mr. Schnabel found for him, has a rugged, no-nonsense feel — a soaring ceiling and a décor lacking in finesse  —that is theatrically appropriate to the heraldic, almost martial quality of the work. What with the armor-like shape of his canvases, you are put in mind of the great hall of a medieval castle.

Mr. Gorchov’s paint handling is robust but unfussy. His typical work places simple shapes of one color against a ground of another. These can be mirror image, geometric shapes, like the double pair of relatively neat yellow ovals against a sloppy, expressive green ground in the 9-foot-tall “5th One” (2006); or discrete, irregular shapes like the pair of contrastive green forms in “Palais Jamais (Who’s Afraid of Purple and Green)” (2005), which seem to slip toward the sloping edges of their support. Despite their distinctiveness, the shapes in “Palais Jamais” resist categorization as either organic or hieroglyphic.  In other works, like “Veronique” and “Mariana’s Room” (both 2006) amoeba-forms recalling Arp have a fluid sense of evolving growth.

Other motifs have figural connations. “Amphora” (1975) resembles a pair of bowed legs. “Ausonian” (2006) suggests footprints, and “Hazard” (2005) hints at handprints.

Sometimes the shapes have a hard, slow, sculptural sense, like the flint or menhir-like pair in “Rejiv” (2005), where nervous, drawn pentimenti increase the sense of forms carved out of the pictorial ground. Other times, as in “Gigue” (2000) there is a gestural sensibility — forms whose calligraphic speed suggest fluency and immediacy.

These contrasts of form language, speed, and depictive phenomena keep the show lively, diverse, and energized. Far from being specific to one mood or message, Mr. Gorchov’s idiom turns out to have the flexibility of a sonnet, conveying a whole range of emotions and values.

Ron Gorchov, Thersites (Chastened), 2012. Oil on linen, 34 3/4 x 42 1/4 x 8 3/4 inches. Courtesy of Cheim & Read
2012 work in Cheim & Read exhibition