Arts Magazine - June 1984

Synthetic Art reviewed

by Holland Cotter

Detailed in a gallery catalogue, the definition of “synthetic” around which this group show gathered was complex in its historical reach, but the thesis seemed to boil down to one real operative point when actually applied to the work at hand: these paintings all sought to pursue visual dialectic in pointed and extended quotation from high and low art sources.

Both George Deem and Edgar Franceschi bring their art history right up front. In Franceschi’s Artist’s Studio I we have Fragonard literally second-hand as his painting of lovers in a garden has been painstakingly copied to scale and festooned with mock-David Salle globes and Rauschenbergian whatsits – an additive compounding that produces something like a giant Cornell box and seems determined to divert the interpretive eye with a sheer wealth of privately meaningful materiality. Deem creates uncannily faithful versions of Vermeers (even the camera obscura pointillism is schematically simulated) in which specifics of content have been either shifted about or simply excised. Marginal, nearly subliminal visual jotting (a color-key for the painting, for example, is included on its unfinished framing edge) establish an ongoing creative reciprocity between past an present, and render distinctions of send-up and homage inseparable.

Voy Fangor centers his canvases around the idea of television as an impartial transmitter of images profound and trivial. Fangor was at one time an Op painter and clearly the abstract patterning of the color TV screen with its weird haze of electronic purples and greens still holds visual fascination for him; the disheartening possibilities of “synthetic” as value-leveler find a critical voice here.

Max Coyer’s paintings cast, as they always do, a wide referential net. 19th century drawings, ukiyo-e, and classical architecture are embodied in several high/low painting techniques. The result is a rich, multivalent overlapping which both encourages and thwarts direct reading, as if demanding the exegete linger on the puzzle rather than look to a solution. In their rich, hybrid density Coyer’s paintings are the ones that seem most successfully to both participate in the “synthetic” thesis of this absorbing show and at the same time remain independent of it.(Harm Bouckaert, march 29 – April 21)

pictured: Education, 1984 Oil and spray enamel on canvas, 70 x 48