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“Twenty-Four Paintings:

Thomas Nozkowski”

At the Corcoran Gallery of Art

to November 1

Arthur G. Dove, a retrospective of whose work opens at the Phillips Collection on Sept. 20, works in a wholesome breed of New England rusticism that is perhaps better known in its literary equivalents: the writing of Robert Frost and E.B. White. But the genre always seems feistier in these texts, which as texts allow for subtext, misprision, and creative misreadings. Dove’s palette is almost unrelievedly dun—he’s an oddly staid bird among the fairly eccentric lot of early-20th-century American modernists. And if it takes more than a rare Holstein pattern to pique your interest, I recommend checking out the zippier abstract paintings of Thomas Nozkowski, 24 of whose works are at the Corcoran until the beginning of November.

This show is being billed as the first solo museum show for Nozkowski. However grateful one might be to Corcoran curator Jack Cowart for organizing the show, one recognizes immediately that these are not primarily museum paintings. They’re paintings to be lived with. That’s partly because they can be lived with (my Hirsts tend to dominate the boudoir, and the smell of formaldehyde overpowers Mrs. Gilbert’s delicate potpourris). But it is also because they need and deserve time to be taken in. So I recommend settling down on Thomas Hope’s marble pedestal, dragging the Artschwager upstairs for use as a footstool, and spending a couple of hours with these paintings.

To say they need time is not to say that they need criticism or even critical assistance. In fact, just the opposite: These paintings threaten to short-circuit the consumption of art objects, or rather to make a closed circuit between the fastidious artist and the enriched consumer, with little or no need for critical mediation. I find myself (possibly because there is so little to say) wanting to own one of these paintings. I’m fixed on the 320 square inches of Untitled 1994 (7-53), which is sadly already in the possession of a private collector.

I admit that the love of labor—whose visual marks in the form of pentimenti and scrapings are so evident in these works—might form no small part of my appreciation. Sadism, the idea that these pains were gone through for you, is part of taking in any well-crafted—and clearly handcrafted—object. This is a pleasure denied us by most minimalist and post-minimalist works (which, in neo-conceptual guise, may form the bulk of contemporary vanguard art). There, the pain and discoveries are all in you, if anywhere.

Such art no doubt had its role in pointing to the unrealized contribution of the spectator and in demystifying the object. But if you tire of the idea that it’s always up to you to remember the color of Byron Kim’s last corn dog, or simply want to see art practiced (and still going strong) according to an older paradigm, then visit this show. If you can’t spend a few hours with all the paintings there, you might plan to spend 15 minutes with one.CP