Art in America
June 1993  

Cora Cohen at Jason McCoy - exhibition of abstract painting, New York, New York
by Lilly Wei

Cora Cohen's latest show reafirmed her commitment to abstract painting. Diverse in materials and gorgeous in color, seven paintings bloomed on the wall like natural phenomena--seemingly shaped without effort or intervention, held together by their own energies and systems of gravity. More balanced than some of her previous work, utterly confident, even elegant, they are extraordinarily delicate, despite their load of materials: acrylic, flashe, oil, powdered pigment, graphite, charcoal, pastel, watercolor, enamel, polyurethane, copper, iron, marble dust; embedded within them, a toothpick, a staple, shreds of fabric, plastic mesh, other castoffs. In earlier works these applied elements have at times stood in high relief; here, they blend into the overall strategy of the surface, stumbled upon as the eye wanders through the shifting terrain of the canvas.

Cohen intends to be inclusive, informal, nonauthorial, linking her paintings to the world outside her studio by refusing to categorize or limit her choice of materials, her methods and attitudes. Thus, she opposes the hard varnish of industrial polyurethane to the grit of powdered pigment and stone, the smooth glimmer of metallic dust to more conventional mediums. She also deploys an array of abstract painting techniques from staining to dripping, pouring, splattering and spreading--a virtuoso performance coded to the movement of the body.

Orchestrating a complex series of incidents that look like accidents--or the reverse--without aspiring to a dominant, transcendent image, Cohen pursues a development that is at once instinctive, sensuous and fluid. The possibility of meaning in her painting is everywhere equally present, to be read simultaneously: a feminist's concordance.

This exhibition, however, was much more visual in its address than it was polemical. It ranged from the high-key colors and high-flying mood of The Process of Decay Is the Process of Crystallization and Intrepid Allegory to the more balanced beauties of hemlocks, Peacocks, in which the equilibrium is jarred and started humming but not upset by touches of acid greens, vibrant yellows, oranges, reds and whites. An untitled work, the next-to-largest canvas in the show, is also the most profound, the most meditative, as surface agitation gives way to spatial implications. Lighted by a cool interior glow, broken up by areas of yellow and white, softened and made subtle by greens, pinks, gray-greens, gray-violets, its tangled spills and stains of dark blues, violets and blacks converge in what might be taken for a revisionist version of Giverny.

These works constitute an homage to abstract painting, with references to painters as various as Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Morris Louis, Joan Mitchell, Brice Marden, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter. Cohen seems to have considered the project of abstraction with both historical astuteness and a practitioner's sensitivity, and these gracefully lyric, if slightly nostalgic, paintings are the record of that encounter. Although these works do not resolve the many impasses confronting contemporary abstract art--at times they seem recapitulatory--Cohen finesses the theoretical problems of her project by her skill and her quite evident love of painting. In this instance, familiarity breeds content.