Eileen Jeng reviews the recent exhibition The Still Open Case of Irving Petlin: From the Years 1960 to 2012 at Kent Fine Art, New York.
Jeng writes: "The dark-walled, dimly-lit front gallery at Kent Fine Art housed a re-creation of Petlin’s studio in Paris in 1960 – a desk and table with buckets of coated paint brushes. The installation also included two early paintings and Table of Heads (1974-2011), a multi-part piece consisting of 20 enigmatic portraits on canvas, arranged tightly on a table. In these small paintings, the influence of French symbolist Odilon Redon was evident; the large-scale paintings in the main gallery evoked Belgian artist James Ensor and Chilean surrealist painter Roberto Matta… In the diptych The Eleventh of January (2009), which was previously titled Gaza/Guernica, Petlin depicts the tragedies of war, particularly attacks on defenseless civilians like, as suggested in the early title, those that have occurred in the Palestinian territories and the 1937 bombing of the Spanish city during the Spanish Civil War. The notes next to the painting, however, only focus on Gaza. With figures painted in bold colors in the foreground, mere outlines of a mass of people in the background, and strokes and splotches of red and orange paint resembling blood and fire, Petlin leaves the viewer to fill in the rest of the story."