March 28, 2008
In the gallery's main spaces, Deborah Brown repopulates the New York metropolitan area. Birds soar and mammals cavort beneath the Bayonne and Brooklyn Bridges. The deer and the antelope play in front of an industrial skyline and the World's Fair grounds, where a dinosaur lumbers gleefully toward the New York State pavilion. After a few million years, no wonder the Philip Johnson towers stand in need of preservation. Brown often punches up the colors as well as the action, as in her playful animal tilings for the West Houston Street IRT. Beneath the fancy, though, is grounding in landscape, both in more naturalistic paintings of Connecticut and in airier sketches, where lines and loops are in no hurry to cohere.
For all the references to a world before humankind, I kept seeing parables of catastrophe—just in time for Earth Day, right? People have vanished, but the reactors keep on smoking. Brown's environmental awareness has something in common with lush paintings of Newtown Creek by Eva Struble or Joy Garnett's heated skies. Here, however, life insistently returns, if only to Jurassic Park. One could fault Brown for trying too hard to bring conceptual sophistication to tradition—or cuddly animals to a demanding public. Still, her paintings never lose their naturalism, their optimism, and their sense of humor.