Paul Jenkins

For a little over a month I've been shirking my professional responsibility to write about Paul Jenkins's exhibition of paintings at Gimpel Weitzenhoffer Gallery here. I held off because I couldn't really accept the fact that a painter of Jenkins's stature, intelligence, and sensibility could have produced a show of such uniformly poor quality. Yet there were his paintings on the gallery walls, big as life, and blasting away in a fashion that reminded me of nothing so much as a child aimlessly banging away on a drum.

Now, Jenkins has been around for a long time - for well over two decades. In that time he has achieved a goodly amount of worldly success. His paintings hang in major museums. He is highly regarded by many collectors and some critics. He has had an impressive book written about him. He is, in short, famous and successful.

So how, I asked myself, could these recent paintings of his be so empty?

Since I pass his gallery almost every day, I made it a point to stop in two or three times a week. I studied his canvases for over a month, looking for something special in them, some indication that he was blasting into new painterly areas, that the paintings were apparently so bad only because what he was trying to do was so new. I pushed my tastes and sensibilities in all sorts of directions in order to accommodate his point of view. But the more I tried, the less I found. So I was forced to the conclusion that these works really are as weak as I had at first thought.

What bothers me most about these often huge canvases is that they could have been made by a robot programmed to slash paint onto a succession of canvases. They lack any reference to human sensibility or significance - and are barren of anything but energy and paint.

Yet there's hope. This morning I noticed a small painting of his in one of the gallery windows. It's very much alive, quite stunning, and obviously only recently completed. It suggests that good and exciting things are bubbling away, things that one hopes will make themselves more fully known in Jenkins's next show. I certainly hope so, for I get no pleasure out of disliking his work.

At Gimpel Weitzenhoffer Gallery through Nov. 28.

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