“Notebook: Formalisms”, The New Orleans Art Review

Notebook: Formalisms



Intrusion, 2001

AS A PRIMARY and collective ethos, postmodernism probably no longer exists. Too many years have passed. And yet, as sheer effect, it seems absolutely pervasive —and interminable. A movement that was, at once, soundly intellectual and blithely reactionary, now proceeds rutterless. After twenty-plus years, artists become untangled from a prevailing spirit. Any prevailing spirit. Especially one that is a movement about a movement. What we see today may look like postmodernism — still imbued with ironies, still irreverent, still wittingly impure — but it now has the ring of disengagement. Serious artists seem, more than ever, on their own. Unimpressed by theory, unmoved by trends.

The corollary is a pluralism that, for once, feels true. Artists appear to be pursuing individual impulses for newly logical reasons — reasons related to personal sensibility or to cultural phenomena. Consider certain examples on exhibit this winter in New Orleans.

An innately realist painter persists almost stubbornly in a manifestly traditional style because, clearly, it is his passion, it is “what he does.” …To wit, Luis Cruz Azaceta. A long-established geometric abstractionist elaborates and elaborates on his signature approach, never parting from what is essentially a mathematical art….

BRIGHT LIGHTS. The new paintings and collages of Luis Cruz Azaceta, recently at the Arthur Roger Gallery, embody a separate sort of formalism, one that is mitigated again and again by organic allusions. Jimmy Reed’s blues anthem, Bright Lights, Big City, is a convincing companion. In both works The City (New York for Azaceta, Chicago for Reed) is offered as a glittering spectacle, but also as a locus of tragedy that befalls it as a result of its very lustre.

In works such as Plaq, Xulu and, most conspicuously, Intrusion, neatly formed circles (cells, beads) intimate the vibrant pulse of the city. Very soon, however, it begins, symbolically, to suffer debilitating assaults —these indicated by sinister and irregular (unfamiliar) forms that invade the pictorial space. The neat circles are shoved into unsteady, awkward shapes; the compositional whole remains brilliant and alive, but diminished — decidedly out of kilter.

Azaceta’s new work sits rather imprecisely in the long tradition of geometric abstraction. What separates it is cultural context and the affirmation of dire truths. His deceptively ornamental works have a perilous underside that the last wave of geometries, Neo-Geo, could never muster.