The cavernous feel of Casey Kaplan’s space on 21st Street is a good setting for big, abstract painting. Put an interesting enough work up, and it can command fifty feet of wall, spreading out on either side like blinders on a racehorse. Garth Weiser’s current show, though, takes that to an extreme, scattering eight big canvases and a handful of drawings around the space like rent is cheap.
In one series of five large works, a flat layer painted in the fashion of wood grain is overlaid with a contrasting layer of built-up oil in perfect parallel lines. The top layer, with its shimmering moiré effect created by repeated, adjacent highly contrasting colors, calls to mind the work of Bridget Riley; the lower layers, meanwhile, form rough gashes across the canvases more reminiscent of Marc Handelman’s recent show at Sikkema Jenkins. It’s odd, really—the wood grain, so inert on its own, is suddenly transformed into a violent gesture, as though even the most unassuming of natural phenomena would look feral next to the mechanical absolutes of Op Art abstraction.
It’s a formula that works, and it works best when Weiser combines it with rich color: Tahitian Moon, a nearly monochrome work in ultramarine with hints of a bright orange layer peeking out from beneath, is particularly striking, while a graphite work in the same vein, Tobin’s Spirit Guide, struggles to compete with its peers.
Another series of four works, using copper leaf, suffer by comparison. Grinder, a huge canvas of scribbled acrylic curves on copper, particularly feels like a misstep. The foil is used for the same purpose that the upper, geometric layer of paint serves in the other works, laying out neat parallel lines that Weiser’s more gestural elements can then play off. Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t have the same power: the shimmering optical effects are now made a banal fact of the material, rather than an impressive feat of illusion. It’s a move away from virtuosity and towards directness, and while that’s a move I generally like, it just doesn’t work here.Arcadia, a similar work that ditches the scribbling gestures in favor of a smattering of cool, geometric circles, uses the copper leaf to much better effect, bringing the scientific and electrical implications of the material into the work.
Given how small the show is—at the very least, relative to the space—this unevenness is worrying. Staring at the ripples of Tahitian Moon, though, that’s easy to forget.