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TO MARCH 4
Any brief description of Simon Gouverneur’s life sounds impossibly romanticized: He was brilliant and tormented; his art was difficult and misunderstood; he committed suicide in 1990, hanging himself after setting fire to his studio. Thankfully, his work survived, as attested by “Mystic Logic,” a show of four large paintings (Two-Toe is pictured) and 24 notebook sketches on view at Curator’s Office. In his paintings, the D.C. artist appears to be some sort of tortured numerologist, consulting the I Ching, mandalas, and Mayan and Aztec stone calendars to create rebus-like artworks. Jester is typical: It’s a flat red-and-black-painted grid built on a delicate network of ruled graphite diagonals. Each square presents six strange arrowlike signs and variations on a nine-digit numerical sequence, resulting in what looks like a cross between an alchemical recipe and a Sudoku puzzle. The paintings highlight both Gouverneur’s flat but radiant colors and his love of pattern and variation. But the notebook sketches, all seen here for the first time, steal the show. One of them is a hand-written essay on the nature of visual signs and symbols—unreadable because a grocery-store advertisement has been placed over the text, squarely in the middle of the page. The ad is arranged in a rectangular grid that almost resembles a typical Gouverneur painting. For Gouverneur, pattern apparently spoke with more force than explanations. Like early modern artists at the start of the last century, Gouverneur sought to arrive at something metaphysical by reinventing visual language. But instead of revealing universal truths to the world, he ultimately hid himself inside a private universe. The exhibition is on view from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and by appointment, through Saturday, March 4, at Curator’s Office, 1515 14th St. NW, 2nd Floor. Free. (202) 387-1008. (Jeffry Cudlin)