Ron Gorchov, Entrance (1972/2005), oil on cotton on canvas, 15′ x 20-1/2′; courtesy the artist
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How would the paintings of Ron Gorchov, on display at a rough, raw and temporary Tribeca space operated by Julian Schnabel’s son Vito, play outside of New York City? Not too well, I think. Though the “gee whiz” factor is high–Mr. Gorchov’s stacked accumulations of shaped canvases can aspire to Guggenheimian proportions–the work is indicative of nothing so much as a New York subculture for whom the minutiae of painting is the governing impetus for pursuing the art form. Mr. Gorchov is, in that regard, a big-city provincial.
It’s not that the pictorial issues Mr. Gorchov glances upon (surface and support, image and object-stuff like that) aren’t important; they are, absolutely. The problem is that he excessively limits himself to them. Drawing inspiration from the mythos surrounding Action painting–you know: The canvas is an (urgh!) arena in which the painter wages existential battle–Mr. Gorchov then combines it with Minimalism’s brutish physicality and Conceptual Art’s brainy self-consciousness. The resulting artworks intimate primal truths, but deliver only arty tics writ humongous. They’re molehills trying to bluster their way through as mountains.
Mr. Gorchov’s signature shield-like canvases are nice to look at (particularly when you can walk around them and take note of their intricate construction), but the pictorial rationale for them is unaccounted for. A plain old rectangular canvas–what the hell’s wrong with that?–would better suit Mr. Gorchov’s hasty pictographs. The bowed supports do prove themselves more amenable to sculpture; the more the artist stops pretending that his canvases are paintings, the more honest the works become. Even then, the Stonehenge-like scale of something like Entrance (1975/2005) feels arbitrary, even larkish. Mr. Gorchov’s loft must be huge, you think; otherwise, why would he bother? Why we should bother is a question as well.
© 2005 Mario Naves
This review was originally published in the June 20, 2005 edition of The New York Observer.