Art review: Maxwell Hendler at Manny Silverman Gallery

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Each of Maxwell Hendler’s deliciously sensual paintings is a world unto itself that — mysteriously, magically, even miraculously — awakens your attentiveness to the most mundane elements of everyday life. It’s a heady, potentially mind-blowing experience that is as difficult to explain as why some perfume is unforgettable, some jokes are funny and some dishes do things to your palate that make mortal existence seem divine.

Ranging in size from 6 inches by 8½ inches to 4 feet by 3 feet, Hendler’s 23 monochromes at Manny Silverman Gallery are rectangles of supersaturated color or crystalline translucence, through which the grain of the underlying wood panel is visible. Each consists of one or two layers of opaque or transparent resin that Hendler has power-sanded to perfection, a labor-intensive process that can last a few months and leaves many rejects on the cutting room floor.


Born in 1938, Hendler has been working in this manner since 1990, when he turned away from his idiosyncratic brand of Pop-Realism, which featured low-relief pieces made of home-improvement materials; big paintings of words, logos and product labels; intimately surreal still lifes, and super-realistic oils.

Strictly speaking, Hendler’s monochromes are not abstractions because they do not extract elements from visible reality and then simplify or stylize them by turning them into pictorial patterns or geometric configurations. It’s more accurate to see his ravishing panels as extreme close-ups of the real world — as the bare-naked consequence of an intense zeroing-in on a single element of reality.

Color is everything. Since 2004, Hendler has paid particular attention to aqua, pink and black. That oversimplifies things tremendously, especially when you scan the gallery and see the range of temperature, density and reflectivity Hendler brings to aqua, in “Bolt,” “Como No,” “Freddy’s Ready,” “Civility” and “At Ease,” or to pink, in “Tre Lune,” “Embrace Me,” “Just the Way You Are,” “Ruby My Dear” and “Love’s Attire.” His blacks include the shimmering space of “Dark Passage,” the deep green of “Lagoon,” the luxuriant burgundy of “Perfectly Normal” and the root beer sweetness of “Actual Size.”

Hendler makes infinitesimal differences in tint look so exquisitely different that it’s easy to imagine a monochrome world as beautifully diverse and as wonderfully distinct as the real one.

– David Pagel
Manny Silverman Gallery, 619 N. Almont Drive, (310) 659-8256, through June 26. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Images: ‘Ruby My Dear, ' 2008 (top) and ‘At Ease,’ 2008. Courtesy of Manny Silverman Gallery.