Noah Becker's whitehot magazine of contemporary art

April 2011, Rene Pierre Allain

Rene Pierre Allain, Steel Bar no.31-7, 2010
Steel, gun blue, heat, clear lacquer; 12” X 19” X 1”
Courtesy of the artist.

A Summation of Rene Pierre Allain's Recent Steel Bar Paintings

Ricco Maresca
529 West 20th Street
New York 10011
April 14 through May 14, 2011

319 Bedford Ave
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
New York 11211
April 9 through May 8, 2011

In writing on the paintings of Rene Pierre Allain, whose work I began following more than two decades ago, I have noted a sense of "completeness" that appears inexorably present in his work. To describe this sense of "completeness" is more diffficult than it might seem, given that Allain has always worked with a severely focused set of visual (and conceptual) parameters in a more or less reductive style. One of the terms used by Greenberg et. al. in discussing the formalist paintings of the 1960s was "coherence." This is the manner in which the elements or parts of the picture cohere in a way that suggests both innovation and objectivity according to the way in which a successful painting in the history of art is expected to cohere. By "completeness," I refer to another quality -- less anti-formal than informal -- that may or may not include coherence, but is more related to what occurs after the act of seeing. This would imply that the painting has fundamentally covered all the bases and has reached a threshold where it would be impossible to conceive of anything further happening. I suppose that ultimately a sense of "completeness" is the state of aesthetic satisfaction one feels when a painting is, indeed, finished. If I were to compare this concept with Allain's recent "steel bars" -- paintings made entirely of steel through the use of acid markings and a blow torch -- I would say that Allain has reached this "completeness" once again, but in a different way than the earlier steel-framed canvas paintings that are about as defiant in their directness and intensity as any abstract paintings I have ever seen.

The Steel Bars are possibly less aggressive in their directness than some of the previous paintings -- including those with the Arpian-style shapes -- that are being shown currently with paintings by Larry Webb at the Sideshow space over in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. As an aside, the works of these two painters -- Allain and Webb -- function amazingly well together. However, the title of their show -- Ghost Dance -- has little to do with either painters' work other than referencing the collection of Allain's African masks, which have been included irrelevantly in a corner of the exhibition in order to distract from one's experience with the paintings. In this case, the Steel Bars are spaced between some of Allain's previous works and Webb's vibrantly soulful paintings, yet assert themselves in an unorthodox, though subtle manner, while not at all diminishing the impact of their materiality, an aspect that Allain has always tried to foreground in his work.

As for the two rooms at Ricco Maresca, the arrangement of the Steel Bars are serialized (to a degree) but nonetheless stunning. They are small to medium in terms of their scale. As I recall, there are three different dimensions employed in this exhibition, each one holding its own without deviating from the others. The "paintings" are clear in their intentions, emphasizing Wright's modernist concept of "truth to materials." It should be mentioned that the vertical bars faceted with acid compounds, both strong and dissolved, employ varying degrees of heat and time manipulated insightfully in accordance with the motion of the artist's torch/brush. Still, there are not a replication of Newman's painterly or hard-edge "zips." Quite the contrary. The two interpretations of Newman's vertical lines might include, 1) the formal aspect of interiorizing the framing edge of the canvas, and 2) the content aspect related to the intervention of divine light in Judaic history. While relevant for Newman, neither intention or interpretation, as the case may be, has much to do with Allain's Steel Bars. Rather Allain's concerns are more directed toward how the form achieves its sense of completeness through the use of materials Steel is not canvas and acid compounds are not pigments. Thus, Allain is more interested in the frontal appearance of abstract painting while borrowing from a medium generally reserved for sculpture. Through this play of reversal, Allain's new work resonates with a presence that holds austerity in check. If anything, it is the transformation of material into a lyrical semblance of thought, regarding the process of how a painting comes to be, and how its transmits the process of thought or, better, thinking as feeling, to the viewer.

Rene Pierre Allain, Steel Bar no.18-1 , 2011
Steel, gun blue, heat, clear coat; 28.25” X 48.25” X 1.5”
Courtesy of the artist.

Rene Pierre Allain, Steel Bar no.33-1, 2011
Steel, gun blue, heat, clear lacquer; 24.5” X 39.5” X 1.5”
Courtesy of the artist.

Rene Pierre Allain, Steel Bar no.34, 2011
Steel, gun blue, heat, clear lacquer; 32.5” X 57.5” X 1.5”
Courtesy of the artist.

Rene Pierre Allain, Ghost Dance, Installation view at Sideshow, 2010
Courtesty of the artist and Sidehow

Robert C. Morgan

Robert C. Morgan is an artist, scholar, poet, teacher, and author. Considered an authority on early Conceptual Art, Dr. Morgan  has lectured widely, written literally hundreds of critical essays (translated into twenty languages), published several books, and curated numerous exhibitions. In 1992, he was appointed as the first critic-in-residence at Art Omi International Artists Residency, where in 2016, he was honored as Critic Emeritus.  In 1999, he was awarded the first ARCALE prize in International Art Criticism in Salamanca (Spain), and the same year served on the UNESCO jury at the 48th Biennale di Venezia.  In 2002, he gave the keynote speech in the House of Commons, London on the occasion of Shane Cullen’s exhibition celebrating the acceptance of “The Agreement” by the UK. In 2003, Dr. Morgan was appointed Professor Emeritus in art history at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and, in 2005, became a Senior Fulbright Scholar in the Republic of Korea. In 2011, he was inducted into the European Academy of Sciences and Arts in Salzburg; and, in 2016, the Department of Special Collections at the Hesburgh Library, University of Notre Dame, purchased The Robert C, Morgan Collection of Conceptual Art.  Much of his work since the late 1990s has focused on art outside the West in the Middle East and East Asia where his books have been translated and published into Farsi (Tehran: Cheshmeh, 2010), Korean (Seoul: JRM, 2007), and Chinese (Beijing: Hebei, 2013). Dr. Morgan has worked extensively in China with contemporary ink artists and has authored many catalogs and monographs on Chinese artists. In addition to his scholarly, he continues a parallel involvement as an artist and abstract painter (since 1970) with a major survey exhibition at Proyectos Monclova in Mexico City (March 23 – April 29, 2017). His work has appeared in numerous exhibitions and is included in several important collections.


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