Louise Fishman at Cheim & Read

Louise Fishman, My cityLouise Fishman, My City (2002), oil on canvas, 80″ x 60″; courtesy Cheim & Read

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On the invitation to Louise Fishman’s show at Cheim & Read is a reproduction of one of her latest paintings, a hasty sprawl of snarled brushstrokes titled The End of a Perfect Day . Looking at it made me wonder whether there shouldn’t be a moratorium on the making of art that claims Abstract Expressionism as its birthright. Not that the New York School hasn’t occasioned a lot of terrific art; where would painters like Melissa Meyer, Tine Lundsfryd and Michael Mulhern be without it? Nor would I want to go on record claiming that any particular tradition has played itself out.

Still, there are moments when one wishes that Action Painting would go the way of the passenger pigeon. Certainly, it has resulted in a lot of overheated painting: sloppy and turgid stuff that could serve as an inadvertent advertisement for tempered emotions and artistic decisions deliberately nudged into shape.

Seeing The End of a Perfect Day in the flesh–it’s the first painting you see when you walk into Cheim & Read–does nothing to dispel such thoughts. This is an artist for whom intuition and desperation are all but indistinguishable. Walking in to the second gallery, you’re confronted by architectural structures, discordant greens, surging brushwork and Abstract Expressionism as a dead horse that’s been flogged one too many times. It’s at this point that Ms. Fishman vindicates herself by demonstrating that Action Painting is a myth we can still buy into.

There are three good paintings here … well, two and a half: The somber, purplish light of Stone Out of Sleep (2003) is marred by snaky brushstrokes-needless flourishes on an otherwise solid structure. The other two canvases are Perilous Things (2003), the best Joan Mitchell painting Joan Mitchell never painted, and My City (2002), which features the most complex–or, at least, unexpected–pictorial space of Ms. Fishman’s career. Will she be able to follow up on the promise of this good new work? Only if she’s willing to risk a sense of measure that has so far proved incompatible with her aesthetic.

© 2003 Mario Naves

Originally published in the May 11, 2003 edition of The New York Observer.

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