For many years Joe Zucker has tested painting’s material boundaries using everything from cotton balls to rope. The how and what of his practice are always poetically and sometimes rather humorously intertwined. The how—a kind of predetermined method or set of materials for a particular body of work—acts as a conceptual underpinning. The what springs from his abiding fascinations: water (boats, fishing, pirates), birds, rudimentary building materials and hypothetical architectural and/or historical situations.

Exhibitions at Boone’s uptown and downtown locations were together titled “A Unified Theory.” The uptown space mounted slightly older “box” paintings similar to those the artist showed in 2004 at Paul Kasmin Gallery. In the eight recent paintings of 2009-10 at Boone’s Chelsea venue Zucker combines abstracted imagery of ancient boats, the sea and post-volcanic Pompeian houses. All the works are 48 inches square, executed on gypsum wallboard, and framed in sturdy welded and painted steel. The wallboard is scored in a quarter-inch grid, stripped of its outer layer of paper and painted, oddly, in watercolor. Soaking into the gypsum of the wallboard, the watercolor mutes and grays the palette, which resembles that of ancient frescoes. Individual quarter-inch squares are painted in closely related colors. The effect is that of tessellation, which relates not only to mosaics but, metaporically, to particle theory and theoretical physics, subjects long of interest to Zucker.

Some of the paintings seem to combine the plan and elevation of ancient houses. The Atrium at Baryon has a series of red-clay and dull pink checked columns marking space at both the left and right sides; through them is seen a pale green and darker green stepped, horizontally striped pyramidlike shape, presumably a reference to Mount Vesuvius. Centrally placed are what appear to be rudimentary chairs. Though the painting is abstract, the feeling of both an open and semi-interior space is achieved. The Atrium at Neutrino resembles a floor plan that includes walls and doorways, while the volcano is rendered in elevation. Pinks, tans, chrome greens and ivory tones enforce a feeling of ashy and empty ruins. Variation in the little squares of color makes them flicker, recalling how a flat mosaic can evoke three dimensions.

These works represent not so much a departure as another facet of Zucker’s complex work. The balance of implied ideas and visual information is seamless and the experience of them transporting.


Photo: Joe Zucker: The Atrium at Neutrino, 2010, watercolor and gypsum on plywood, 48 inches square;
at Mary Boone. (See review on next page.)