Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pat Steir at Cheim & Read

Steir’s elegant, larger-than-life paintings flood into the hushed expanses of the concrete floored gallery at Cheim & Reid, diffused daylight illuminating these vast draperies of monochrome lushness, whose beckoning surfaces are not unlike a crusty frosting on the artist’s succulent canvases. 
You might expect some dramatic personage to emerge from behind these shimmering curtains, yet they remain quietly stoic for such ambitious edifices. The artist’s ego is famously in check, for this is Pat Steir, Buddhist powerhouse extraordinaire. She may be supersizing, but has left her hubris at the door.
Embracing eastern philosophy using a painterly approach might seem like a dicey proposition, too many potential pitfalls of clichéd metaphysical verbiage. But Steir steers clear of becoming doctrinaire, relying on an astute sense of well-crafted chromatic nuance to deliver a series of compelling, if not intimate, scenes sourced from nature.
That these artworks are essentially landscapes disguised as luxurious gowns does not detract from their seductive allure. I’ll bet Courbet would have relaxed with a beer in front of these pieces and have soaked up some essence before returning to his roguish labors.
Indeed Steir’s deft touch connotes an ornamental flourish; her work would look good in either a bank lobby or a fancy yacht. This may not be her intent, but décor haunts her results, and lingers like an aftertaste. The paintings are just a tad too pretty and melodious.
The delicate distinction between challenge and accommodation fluctuate with Steir’s impeccably painted vistas, rewarding the viewer with a wistful remorse that they wished they could have one.

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