"Transitional exhibition" is a charitable critical euphemism for an art that has abandoned former virtue without gaining new ground. For a couple of seasons Dan McCleary held our slightly anxious attention with broad figurative paintings of an odd and compelling sensibility. They seemed to capture the muffled sexual guilts of a marginal immigrant family trying to stay respectable on the wrong side of the tracks. The paintings had an odd, almost dangerous authenticity, like the work of an updated Edward Hopper, but far more neurotic and far less arty in their appeal, rather like the sociopsychological paintings of Eric Fischl.
McCleary's art was woven of tension too tightly strung to remain taut and, sure enough, new work has gone stylishly limp. Oh, there are vestiges of the old subject matter in "The Crime" and "The Cook," but there's no zing in them. Obviously McCleary's new way is that of David Hockney. A "Portrait of David Marsh" impersonates Hockney's frame of mind when he paints a friend while pretending he is Pink Period Picasso thinking about Piero della Francesca.
McCleary's new toot is so clear that a double portrait of a couple is a virtual Hockney paraphrase. McCleary used to look like a virtuoso draftsman and painter; now that the work has become self-conscious about that, the painting is flat and overgeneralized and the Matissoid drawing line looks more like Elmyr de Hory, the forger. Oh, well, it's a transitional exhibition. (Newspace Gallery, 5241 Melrose Ave., to April 5.)