Elen Feinberg’s recent paintings focus largely on formal properties of composition, color and light. Somewhat reductive interiors, with their rows of geometric objects arranged on shelves and tables, evoked both the phenomenological explorations of Martha Alf and the architectural geometry of Bruce Cohen. Any allusion to a wider world outside this hermetic painterly existence was limited to an occasional window opening out onto a distant landscape.
In Feinberg’s latest work, generically titled “Bottomless Lakes,” this landscape has taken center stage, representing both a literal and psychological expression. Shelves and objects are either relegated to a secondary role as framing devices, or removed altogether. Yet their importance remains paramount, largely because we continue to “read” the landscape with the same representational perspective, focusing not on objective criteria but on painterly devices.
Thus the work is about landscape painting itself, and as such has more in common with the recent work of, say, Gerhard Richter than the illustrious pre-Impressionist heritage that it quotes. We might spot a Turner-esque watercolor sunset, a Courbet-like stroke expressing tangibility and heaviness, or a Barbizon School play of light, but these become mere mannerist quotations in a larger vocabulary of constructed spectacle. Feinberg draws us in with seductive images and she simultaneously dismantles her vocabulary through conceptual distancing. The work succeeds admirably on this level but doesn’t quite make that necessary leap into transcending its own self-awareness. It remains an essay on construction rather than a full-blown opus with all the subtleties and contradictions that implies. (Mekler Gallery, 651 N. La Cienega Blvd., to May 3.)