Howard Buchwald at Nancy Hoffman Gallery

Howard Buchwald, In or Out (2008), acrylic on canvas, 84″ x 120″; courtesy Nancy Hoffman Gallery

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The paintings of Howard Buchwald, on display at Nancy Hoffman Gallery, are as much a call to arms as an exhibition of art.

Listen to Buchwald tell it: “Painting is not in the service of some purpose, objective, image or idea residing outside, prior to, and independent of the specific work”. Momentarily commiserating with the aesthetically challenged, he does admit to “understand[ing] the anxiety that direct looking and feeling still produce.”

But? Any “attempt to overcome this feeling by supplanting what is right there . . . is largely beside the point.” Don’t come to Buchwald, then, with high-flown theoretical flourishes or pressing sociological agendas. Codifying art by means other than direct visual engagement stifles its integrity. Why don a straitjacket when you’re given free agency?

Howard Buchwald, Mapped (Large Red) (2010), acrylic on canvas, 84″ x 90″; courtesy Nancy Hoffman Gallery

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A fixture of the New York art world, Buchwald believes in the eye above all. His rigorously choreographed arrays of wriggling, rubbery lines and declarative, eye-rattling colors couldn’t kowtow to extra-aesthetic imperative if they wanted to. The rhythms are too headstrong, the compositions too unpredictable, the sense of purpose fiercely independent.

The pictures have the graphic clarity of superhero comics—you know, KA-POW!—and recall The New York School in their scale and ambition, though Buchwald’s firm sense of humor is entirely his own. The black line muscling its way through Mapped (Large Red) (2010) would steal the show if it weren’t for the acidic tonalities of In Or Out (2008), a monumental canvas whose title is both plain-as-day descriptive and a challenge to the viewer.

© 2012 Mario Naves

Originally published in the February 8, 2012 edition of City Arts.

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