John L. Moore is a good example why it is important to be wary of terms like "radical" and "conservative." Looking at the 11 abstract paintings and 8 works on paper in this traveling show, which traces his development from the rectilinear arrangements of 1984 to the proliferation of black ovals this year, it would be easy to classify him as "conservative." The pictorial vocabulary is modernist. There is a strong sense of Philip Guston in the approach to brushwork and shape.

But these probing paintings ask questions that are not being asked by many other artists. While painting highly personal and often autobiographical works inspired by Cleveland, where he was born in 1939, and New York, where he now lives, Mr. Moore seems to embrace and doubt everything. His sinking and defiant squares and walls and his rectangles of dawn and dusk ask: What is a square? What is a rectangle? What, indeed, is color? The paintings are so Socratic that the title of one series, "Don't Ask Questions," seems not only prickly, but also ironic.

There are several reasons why paintings that can seem so sensual are also probing. For one thing, almost nothing in them is pure - not the squares, rectangles and circles, not the color. In addition, each shape, no matter how independent, clearly depends upon others. Furthermore, all the paintings are at the same time gestural and conceptual, hard-edged and loosely brushed.

In short, Mr. Moore's approach to a common abstract vocabulary is, as the critics and painters Robert Berlind and Stephen Westfall have pointed out, extremely personal. Mr. Moore starts with a clear image, then explores it in an intuitive, improvisational manner, working toward a whole in which disjunctive sections relate to one another like notes from different musical scales. Often a finished painting will inspire a work on paper, which suggests a need to keep thinking and looking, to keep the process going. The result is painting that is difficult and unexpected and caught in a compelling way between the pressure to question and the desire to be.

Michael Brenson, Art Critic, New York Times, November 23, 1989