Gay City and TimeOut New York: Carl Ostendarp, "Swishes that Pack a Punch"

Versions of this review appeared in Gay City News and TimeOut New York

Elizabeth Dee

Nobody can fill up nothing like Carl Ostendarp.  A lightening-like red conniption in the lower left hand corner, and a whole wash of a pinkish/orangish red (106 x 140 inches of it) is there.  To say what it is that’s there is the challenge, as Ostendarp’s canvases are more apt to cry out what they aren’t.  Uncool.  Cool.  Articulate.  Inarticulate.  Pretty.  Ugly.  Refined.  Coarse.  Placid.  Anxious.  Complicated.  Simple.  

In Ostendarp’s ninth New York solo show, and his second solo show at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, three tremendous canvases, scaled to Joan Miró’s “Mural Paintings” of 1962, are simultaneously affable—conducive to a discourse with a viewer—and defiant of conclusive explanation.  In a ground of “radical emptiness,” which is a term coined by Ostendarp, a blob or form or squiggle or tuft will take on a character as significant of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art as of Dr. Seuss and comic books.  In previous works, Ostendarp has noodled with question marks, which hover like the question marks stitched onto the spandex of supervillain, the Riddler (via Batman).  Indeed, there is a lack of spatiality, fullness, or even flatness to Ostendarp’s grounds akin to that of fabric pulled over flesh. 

Ostendarp’s fourth painting in the front room is sized to a smaller, fourth work by Miró—the only other painting known to have been completed by Miró in 1962.  Titling the piece, “Horoscope,” Ostendarp, with due gravity, as well as a Colorform-esque sense of playfulness, plops a greenish yellow star, heart and moon onto a suffusion of grayish lavender.  The painting is directly related to Miró’s “Constellations” of the 1940s, as are Ostendarp’s six paintings in the rear gallery, which take up the proportions of a 1968 series by Miró.  Mistakenly, abstract painting is often considered apolitical, but Ostendarp’s ethereal escapism, much like Miró’s, speaks to a time of growing paranoia, and enforced naiveté.  The impact of the War on Terror, much like that of the Cold War, makes for a crater of conspicuous absence on the cultural front.  

Ostendarp, whose first solo show was in 1989, offers more than a spate of Pop Abstraction in recent years, and for those who make that trip to Chelsea, this show should be top of the itinerary.