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Before today painting

Before Today, 2001

synthetic polymer on canvas

34 x 89 inches

Feigen Gallery

535 West 20th Street, Chelsea

Through Oct. 13

This double debut of two young abstract painters indicates that the impulse to build on 1960's-style abstraction has both possibilities and pitfalls. Tim Babington's elongated canvases covered with blurry but tightly vertical stripes suffer from familiarity. The color changes are beautiful and the stripes are sometimes highlighted in ways that have an animated optical effect. But in terms of technique and concept, and except for the narrow line of grisaille stripes along the bottom edge of ''Before Today,'' these paintings look as if they could easily have been painted in the 1960's. In particular, they suggest Gene Davis's stripe paintings as rendered by Dan Christensen in his paint-can days.

In contrast, the paintings of Yek, who uses only his last name, provide genuine visual thrills. Painted on square panels whose edges curve slightly in and corners curl slightly forward, they appear to be unbelievably light, almost weightless. Their hot shaded colors and thin lines, also shaded, which loop in from the edges like fragmented calligraphy, are painted on some kind of space-age glass. They have an almost elastic quality, a cartoonish bounce that suggests they have just been knocked back a bit by their own optical power and finesse.

In a brochure accompanying the show, the critic Dave Hickey, who taught both artists at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, cites Edward Ruscha's blurred transitions of color overlaid with ribbon-thin words as Yek's precedents. Other precedents include Robert Irwin's hovering Plexiglas disk paintings of the early 60's and Ralph Humphrey's little-known fluorescent-toned surfboard paintings from later in the same decade.

Yek has achieved the levitating, disembodied opticality that these earlier artists were after but never quite reached, and it gives his work an irrefutable present tense.


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