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Ron Gorchov’s New York Retrospective

The exhibition Double Trouble, on view through September 18 at P.S.1 in Long Island City, New York, contains both recent and past works of the painter Ron Gorchov, a former student of SAIC. Known primarily for his sculptural use of the canvas and Abstract Expressionist-derived paintings, Gorchov was initially a success in the late 1950s. When Pop Art reached its peak, however, Gorchov slipped from the art scene radar until 1970, when he began painting again.

Last summer, a thirty-year retrospective at the Vito Schnabel Gallery in New York triggered an increased interest in Gorchov’s work and generated new articles on the painter in publications such as The New York TimesArt Forum, and Art in America. This renewed public interest ultimately led to the P.S.1 exhibitionDouble Trouble, which opened on June 25.

Double Trouble encompasses four separate rooms of P.S.1’s third floor Main Gallery. Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is confronted with many of Gorchov’s larger works from 2006. Older work from the 1970s is displayed amongst the painter’s recent works. It is his recent canvases, however, that tend to dominate the show, leaving past paintings to serve as historical reference points. The majority of the paintings employ Gorchov’s infamous bowed canvas.

The fairly simple construction involves stretchers that bow out on all four sides, and a canvas that is stapled to the stretcher’s front. Exposed stretchers allow the viewer to observe the painting’s skeleton and appreciate its effect on the canvas face. The curved sides, which cause the painting to pop both forwards and backwards, create soft, rounded corners, often resembling the organic shapes Gorchov paints. These shapes, described as “kidney-shaped” or “eye-like,” resemble cells or organs in their bilateral symmetry. While the shapes vary in both size and color from one work to the next, they are deliberately replicated in a manner that gives the illusion of being accidental. Gorchov’s use of thin oil paint allows him to create a translucence that mimics watercolor or gouache. Behind many of the more prominent shapes are vague suggestions of life forms, vestiges that bear further resemblance to cells or microscopic organisms.

The canvases create a dynamic environment that leaves the viewer increasingly aware of the inevitable temptation to slip underneath the canvas and fill the bowed space between the painting and the wall. Inches away from the canvas, you just might find yourself entertaining the ridiculous notion that perhaps the entire work could have been painted from the inside. The paintings, which lie somewhere between two and three dimensions, only make us that more curious about the side we will never see.

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