One doesn't make comparisons between two or · more separate exhibits lightly, but in the case of David Richard Gallery's current shows, comparisons can be hard to avoid. Still, the works of Jennifer Joseph, Mokha Laget, and Gloria Klein - which do have some obvious correspondences because each body of work exists, in part, as a variation on the themes of geometry, shape, and color - must also be considered on their own as befitting the contexts in which they were made. The gallery, however, seems to match exhibit to exhibit in a thoughtful arrangement.
With the show In Shape, In Color, Laget has given the shaped canvas an effective sculptural presence without deviating from the flat surface. Shaped canvases were first_ advanced as early as the 1930s in the works of Abraham Joel Tobias (1913-1996), but really took off in the 1960s and '70s in the works of artists working in geometric abstraction, Hard-edge painting, and minimalism. But while much of the art form embraces the irregularity of nonrectangular formats, Laget's compositions seem almost to blossom with the complexity of their visual impact. A simple juxtaposition of varicolored planes brings depth. In Crossbow, for example, the eye reads the intersecting planes of color as simultaneously receding from, and coming closer to, the viewer, while two-toned planes of a particular color - a light blue placed next to a darker blue, for instance - reveal how color itself can suggest perspective. Overall, Laget's compositions seem to move with a folding and unfolding rhythm. The artist pays careful attention to the edges of her pieces, giving them a pristine treatment like that of a Finish Fetish artist. If you peer at one from the side, you don't see poor attempts at stretching or folding the canvas over the frame or any areas of untreated canvas. All of her pieces are, without exception, exceptionally well made, dynamic compositions.
While Laget's works seem almost deceptively simple in their use of basic geometric form, Klein's appear so complex as to be almost chaotic. They reward time spent really looking at them, however, because patterns emerge, hence the title of the small-scale show Pattern Painting, 1975-1983. In her 1980 Untitled 02, a white cross form is readily perceived, but the uniformity of other grid formations within the same piece takes a little work to see. One senses that this near-obscuring of pattern and form is as deliberate as the precision with which she constructs her compositions, which are all made using a multitude of squares and rectangles of varying width and length. As the eye picks up on a particular color, all the forms in the painting that have that color jump out at once, and the regularity of the grids is more apparent; her works thus toy with how the mind actually reads patterns. Each painting is like a densely woven series of intersecting lines and planes. Straight, short staccato dashes arranged on a diagonal seem to shatter vertical and horizontal lines and vice versa, resulting in discordant, haphazard arrangements. Only there is no discord, except in the seeming randomness of her color choices. On linear terms, consistency is the name of the game. The multitude of colored squares in several works, particularly her older pieces, put one in mind of pixelated computer graphics. The arrangements of the geometrics brings a remarkable sense of fluidity to some works such as her Untitled 03 from 1983.
Joseph's Bedroom Paintings form a body of work that's uniform, contemplative, and calming, in terms of the color choices. Each painting is banded with a series of vertical stripes, each about a half-inch in width, in pastel hues. From one side of each painting to the other, they vibrate softly, like the after-image that results from the stroking of a harp string. In the artist's description of the paintings, she presents them as alternatives to the constant stream of information assaulting us daily. They offer respite from the noise, lulling the viewer into a sense of peace. The Bedroom Paintings are a sharp contrast to the loud, clashing color schemes and Gordian impact of Klein's compositions. Joseph's new series put me in mind of diffused daylight, in a range of strengths, filtered through a curtain. Her work also seems like a study in color relationships, predicated on a sense of harmony rather than contrasts. One could say they're conflict-free. Joseph takes fewer chances with this series than in her previous, more conceptually-based sculptural installation projects - but they are something different.
The gallery is also showing Gloria Klein: Systemic Painting and Pattern as the inaugural show at their brand-new New York City location. David Richard is one of few contemporary art spaces in town that is committed to certain styles whose immediate impression is their visual impact - even more so, I think, than the conceptual: the Op Art, Hardedge, and Color School movements, for example. Their continued relevance and influence on artists working today is readily seen in the current works on display. The gallery habitually establishes the correspondences between the contemporary and the increasingly historic postmodern artists of the 20th century, rarely missing a chance to show new work alongside older pieces. Their current selection is no exception. What is an exception is the gallery itself, which - to a town overrun with the work of regionalists - brings something new, even when it's old. - Michael Abatemarco