During the years 1992 to 2002, Peter Halley’s paintings were rarely seen in New York City — during that entire ten-year span there was only one exhibition of his paintings in the city. The artist, whose body of work helped to define a return to abstract, painterly language in the New York avant-garde during the 1980’s, was noticeably absent, a note that often leaves his work somewhat divorced from some of the other artists living and working during that era. Now, an exhibition at Sperone Westwater aims to reintroduce the artist’s work from that era to the city, culling together a body of eight works that emphasize his aesthetic interests during the period, and continuing his exploration of geometric and geographic forms.
The paintings in this exhibition, dated 1997 through 2002, are representative of Halley’s particular visual lexicon in this period. Relying in particular on pearlescent and metallic paints applied to canvases in a manner that create deceptively complex compositions. His pieces, featuring “conduits” and “cells” draw on a language of both circuitry and urban space, mining their shared territory in pursuit of both gestural sparseness and conceptual rigor.
However, considered in opposition to the way his minimalist forebears sought to emphasize space as applied broadly towards the object and its locales, Halley’s pieces emphasize the same object as one of unspecified duration or depiction. These could be abstracted city maps, grids or planning documents, even a depiction of a circuit board, the many possible crossovers lending his vague images additional strength and conceptual weight. Halley’s compositions are reflective not only of the city’s three-dimensional urban grid, but also of the burgeoning flow of information spawned by computer technology. The work speaks to a world in which there are no longer singular “places,” but vacuums that exist between endless currents of data.
One finds themselves lost, regardless of the space they wander in Halley’s works, and perhaps this is the point. Delving into a an unspecified zone, the artist brings broad territories to the viewer for consideration and discrimination. How they read the work is up to them.
The show closes December 22nd.
— D. Creahan
Unseen Paintings: 1997 – 2002, From the Collection of Gian Enzo Sperone [Sperone Westwater]