The review, excerpted below, can be read in its entirety here.
We of a certain generation are haunted by old books, lumbered with them, dependent upon them, fed up with them, in love with them. They furnish a room. Decorators buy them by the yard to fill a wall of shelves, libraries de-accession them, hardly anybody can destroy them. (Once in a while they have been burnt, but only because of what the words inside said.) That old problem remains of what to do with the old books? Pass them on, sell, donate, but don’t destroy. Ephraim Rubenstein paints them; in fact, he buys them in order to paint them. His long-thought-out arrangements of the books to one another, like Cézanne’s apples and pears, achieve a dialogue—formally, rhythmically. These books are not in fine bindings but bound in buckram or paper, some water-damaged, with broken spines or flapping labels, or are disbound completely, their contents most likely obsolete.
All paintings in the exhibition were oil on linen, with the exception of one pastel on paper. Their subject, colorful but faded old books, is set, in most cases, against a velvety black background. Skillful chiaroscuro indicates the influence on this contemporary realist of old masters such as Caravaggio and Manet. The paintings (all 2008) range in dimension from 10-by-8 inches to 48-by-72 inches, so that even the largest of the group achieves an intimacy that invites closer scrutiny. In Books: Pile XXVII (cover), for example, the way the glossy thick brushstrokes create the illusion of fore-edge and top-edge, reflecting ambient light, is seductive; we could almost reach into the painting and open this book. All these paintings play with the viewer’s expectations. The books, so skillfully painted as to draw us closer, only to discover blurred titles and text that cannot be read, are stacked so that we must view certain “piles” from various perspectives (from below or above or head-on). And the relation of a book pile to its picture plane—to its two-dimensional surface, as well as to the confines of its dimensions—is witty. None of Rubenstein’s paintings is to be viewed without a closer look, a suspicious look.