Through May 20. Koenig & Clinton, 459 West 19th Street, Manhattan; 212-334-9255, koenigandclinton.com.
Peter Dreher has spent much of his career producing thousands of high-concept but technically exacting oil portraits of an empty water glass. This 84-year-old German painter’s latest show at Koenig & Clinton collects seven decades’ worth of his treatment of skulls, instead.
The works range from a 1947 watercolor with an upward gaze of doomed innocence to six 10-foot-wide black-and-gray gouaches, made between 2005 and 2007, that manage to look equally like punk-chic bedspreads and coolly abstract reckonings with wartime atrocity. They have a strange, motion-activated flicker, their more or less reflective skulls passing in and out of view as you shift your position.
This subtle formal paradox — a suggestion that black and white, as equal partners in a singular action of contrast, are essentially interchangeable — is a good lead-in to the back room, which holds 15 recent head-on views. Painted in thin, overlapping layers of white gouache, these skulls look like X-rays printed on celluloid. They vary widely in their particulars: One has a jackal’s grimace and a cleft chin, another a severe underbite and eight separately articulated lower teeth. But hanging them all in a line makes those details read as passing accidents, like the constantly mutating patterns of a tide pool.
Standing in front of them, I had what felt like a Buddhist revelation: For a moment, I could see that impermanence was inextricable from form.
WILL HEINRICH, in Art & Design, The New York Times, April 19, 2017