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Biennale – May 2015

This exhibit is difficult to describe in a short post.  The Giardini and the Arsenale contain Okwui Enwezor’s curated show “All the World’s Futures”. The exhibition is sprawling, packed and stacked, retro feeling, institutional, Postmodern and Mannered, but when it’s good, it can be highly enjoyable. Disclaimer straight off: I go to these things to see painting and sculpture. I really don’t give the installations, vitrines, dark rooms or shitty tv screens a fair shake. I’ve never had the patience to stand against a wall or sit on a bench to get through a movie – except in certain instances when I’ve been arrested by very strong imagery or by extremely lush photography. The problem for me is that art is made for these kinds of Costco exhibits these days, and product, preferably room-filling and cheaply insurable, is what curators want to show. And this show is no different. There’s not a lot of painting or sculpture to see, but there are a lot of “rooms” filled with stuff – piled up, hanging, scattered and/or artfully placed. When I did find a painting, a sculpture, an object or even a “room” that intrigued me it was a very welcome thing. Some of the images that I responded to and spent a bit of time with were by Kerry James Marshall, Chris Ofili, Melvin Edwards, Lorna Simpson, and Glenn Ligon. These were purely visual things – things to look at, images to see in a certain way, pictures that would unveil meaning by looking and engaging. And some of them were extremely beautiful – which was not the point of the exhibition – that I understand. But nevertheless, I enjoyed them!

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The state pavilions in the Giardini were basically a wash. And once again, the torrents of accumulated stuff in some of these lovely little buildings is amazing to behold. Look, I’ll say it again to those that care… I’ve never had the urge, the psychic distress, to pile stuff in a room much like those people on reality shows like Hoarding: Buried Alive. As art, as an aesthetic experience this kind of work’s meaning is totally lost on me. But there was one thing that did stay with me, and I thought it was a bit of an anomaly among these installations. I really enjoyed the Korea exhibition entitled “The Ways of Folding Space & Flying” by Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho. The entire pavilion was turned into a video installation. The cinematography was stunning, and we were surrounded and encompassed by beautiful images on giant HighDef screens. The color and light were astonishing! It was one of those rare instances where I have been totally awed by a video image. All the tropes of popular cinema were on display, breaks in time, close ups, camera movement, slow motion, etc., in service of the story, but in the actual spaces of the building you had to keep readjusting your vision, moving along with the lens, unfolding the story through the syncopated images. The narrative was split into three distinct visions of the same incident. And it all comes together after watching through the windows out front along with the two rooms inside.  The clever part was that the video is set in the Giardini and the Biennale, past, present and future, and it was one of the few installations where the artists actually addressed the issues of time, place and this particular exhibition itself.

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The vaporetto ride back to Dorsoduro from the garden was a wonderful thing. It was raining, the boat was pitching, unsteady aesthetic tourists were grabbing whatever they could to right themselves. Most were wrapped up in inexpensive disposable  weather gear purchased for a few euros from the ever-present tchotchke kiosks – red, yellow, or  blue plastic ponchos and flimsy umbrellas – and complaining about how chilly and wet the weather was. The locals just kind of ignored us and purposely moved to the steady parts of the boat. Ahead, the Dogona was getting closer. Past, present and future came together. And I thought how lucky I am to be alive. To be here now. To see all that I have seen, all that I will see, for whatever time I have. These kinds of ephemeral moments happen in the most unexpected places, at the most unexpected times.

Giglio – May 2015

Rounded the corner and rising up before me is this outlandish looking cake decoration sitting in a very small square. The church, Chiesa di Santa Maria del Giglio AKA Santa Maria Zobenigo, is a very wealthy family’s legacy to their very special DNA. The whole facade looks like an eighties hair band’s fantasy album cover. This church, a totally out of control Baroque reboot of a crap Medieval chiesa, was designed by Giuseppe Sardi right at the very height of that hot and heavy era! I stood open mouthed and unbelieving for quite a bit of time before I even had the courage to have a look inside. I mean what could lie in wait – Ziggy Stardust’s Universal Unconsciousness Throne Room? Another amazing thing about the church is that even with all of this profusion of decoration the facade has no Christian iconography, none. That’s a bit ballsy in my book. I guess this “church” is to the 17th Century like a “luxury super yacht” is to our 21st Century – conspicuous consumption by the one percent.

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Inside the church is an entirely different experience – it is a tall box, restrained and elegant, with windows at the top that let in a great deal of light. In fact the natural light inside is surprising – it’s the first church I’ve been in where everything is visible without having to find a light box. There’s an intimacy to the ground space as well. This is not a huge building, it’s compact, and so your vision is always moving upward to the light. There’s an easy and unexpected intimacy in the space. It feels like a place where you’ll have a casual conversation with a good friend rather than a sermon from on high. There are a number of well done, not too exciting paintings by the Tintorettos, father and son, a few good examples by second stringers, but the real star is a Peter Paul Rubens painting of the virgin and child, and it’s a good one. (Photos do not do the painting justice.) I don’t know the story of how this painting got here, but it probably was commissioned or gifted during his travels through Italy in the early 1600s. He spent a bit of time in Venice getting the color, composition and form unique to this place. And speaking of – just like Tintoretto, Rubens was a master at finding the best of things in other artists’ work and then folding those influences into his own strong sensibility. Even with all the influences – Titian, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, etc., Rubens manages to create something unique, his own style of painting.

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In Dorsoduro there’s the wonderful Salute, another amazing Baroque cake decoration. It’s an extremely interesting building, filled with great painting by Titian and one of the best geometric tile floors I’ve ever seen. This beautiful floor is right below the cupola which has windows all around letting the light pour into the space. The floor changes as the light crosses over it throughout the day. If you spend a bit of time you can see different parts of the patterns light up making the optics come alive in ways that you wouldn’t expect. Its beauty is not just in the complicated geometry or the 3D effects, but also in the richness of its materials – the surfaces of the tiles, the colors of the stones, the craftsmanship in the layout. It all combines to create a thick visual experience, a tactile experience, and for me, these are some of the qualities that make the best kinds of Abstraction.

To Venezia – May 2015

Firenze is a crazy town. The aforementioned set up in Santa Croce turned out to be a sponsored 10k – 5K run entitled “Run Like a DeeJay Ten”. There were sponsor tents set up and a bunch of amplified DJs talking incessantly about absolutely nothing all through the day and into the night. If I heard the word “allora” one more time I’d have strangled the first person I saw. And in that moment I came to understand, just a tiny bit, the historic precedent of the Renaissance cultural temperament. What it amounts to is suffering non-stop haranguing until you just can’t take it anymore  – and then you fucking snap! Instant Drama! (Cellini was known for his bad temper, as were the two Micheles, as well as a number of lesser known Mannerists – lots of frayed nerves.)

I still don’t know what the Hell “Run Like a DeeJay” means or what the event was for – a charity event, an event promoting health, an athletic event – all of the above??? But seriously – DJs don’t run, they sit behind microphones and run their mouths. A couple of thousand people showed up for the gathering, all wearing their spiffy event t-shirts and running shorts. And to make a further douche-ie point – not one of the shirted and shorted participants looked like they could have walked 5 blocks, let alone run 5K. Obviously these folks were there for event – not the athletics. And that too is part of “Cultura Italia” – participating in the absolute spectacle of it all. If you’ve ever watched a talk show on Rai Uno then you know. What you’re watching is not so much an entertainment as it is just a really warped dinner party televised into your living room. I find it absolutely wonderful! But I’m done in Firenze – Allora! It’s time for me to leave.

I try to come to Venezia whenever I can. There’s something about this place that deeply resonates with me. A two hour or so train ride back from Firenze, a vaporetto, and I’m standing in a wonderful apartment in Dorsoduro where I will pretend to be a native for the next week or so. The light in Venezia is wonderful, strong, reflective. It’s a warm white light that rounds out the corners of things. It makes everything stand out in very flattering pieces. In Firenze the city is dark stone, nature is  pushed back and controlled. In Venezia the bricks and stucco are lighter and colorful, nature is a part of the cityscape and it’s everywhere. These visual differences get into a person’s life, affect one’s vision, create a different approach to color, to light, to space, to composition. Place is everything. Tintoretto, one of my favorites, understood the importance of these kinds of differences, and used them in his painting. He was determined to bring to a new perspective to Venetian painting and looked to Firenze for inspiration. His art would have the drawing of Michelangelo and the color of Venezia, creating a painting hybrid, an aesthetic anomaly to challenge colleagues. That is the beginning of change, of difference.

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I’m sure that I’ll make my way to the Biennale at some point in order to see what’s changed – the party’s everywhere in this city – an example of yet another Italian spectacle. Maybe I’ll “Run Like a DeeJay” through the thing while trying to keep an open eye and an open mind. But for now I’m going to take a walk along the Zattere and pretend I’m a local.

No Pitti – May 2015

There’s a chapel in the Palazzo Vecchio, Vasari’s OTT Kunsthalle, that houses a fresco by Bronzino, and it’s an absolute stunner. Photographs do not do the thing justice. The room was too dark to photograph, and the stuff online looks blank and dull in comparison to the real thing. The colors are sharp, crystalline. They jump off the wall like neon. Bronzino mastered Michele’s drawing style, and he’s packed the image with well-known precedents. The composition “feels” Postmodern, one thing over another, one quote after another, a billboard collaged on a loose theme. The truth is Mannerism and Postmodernism have a lot in common – too much strong culture to overcome, too many indelible images, too much undigested innovation and nothing new to express – latecomers to the game, so to speak. Basically, what artists do in these times is make embellishments, though sometimes they can be grand ones. Clem called this Alexandrian culture. But that Bronzino fresco and his particular embellishment of a lot of known precedent, is an absolute knockout.

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Over the river is the Palazzo Pitti, and it is filled with STUFF! It’s like a Renaissance Costco that we are not members of, filled with merchandise that none of us could afford. The ugly lump of bricks has all the charm and humility of a ‘roided out WWE wrestler. Inside, though, are a number of well regarded old masterworks – a very charming portrait by Raphael of a lovely young woman, a couple of grand Titians, a great small copy of a Carracci that I would have stolen in a heartbeat if that guard hadn’t woken at the wrong time, and a lot of well done works by a lot of well known names. But for me all the endless imagery of violence, death and suffering is totally depressing. Maybe because I’m older and over it, I’m finding it hard to be around these kinds of images for any length of time. I’m looking for something life affirming, and I could care less about the “triumph in sacrifice”. That and the fact that so many of these paintings are just drowning in darkness – for absolutely no good reason, whatsoever. I do like and understand the need for dark theatricality, but many things in life, both good and bad, did and do happen in the pure light of day.

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OK. I was determined not to look again. I knew it was coming. I’d seen it many years before, and it bothered me then. But it’s like a car wreck. You just can’t NOT look. I did. And I’m still cringing at that horrid image of the poor, half naked woman stripped and restrained by two ugly thugs who are about to tear her breasts off. I know she’s a saint, and she’s somehow supposed to be “triumphant”, but COME ON already, you sick bastards! Are you kidding me? How anyone could be accepting and serene at a time like that is beyond me. The absolute kicker, the insult to the injury, is the lovingly detailed, realistically painted, long sharp blade, stage front, ready for use after the vicious iron pinchers have done their job. I think Louis CK was right. The number one killer of men is heart disease. The number one killer of women is men.

Time for a strong drink….

The Office(s) – May 2015

I’m standing in the middle of the collected Mannerist statutes on the portico of the Signoria. Across the way is Ammannati’s ill-formed giant and the ridiculous fountain that he presides over. What I’m wondering is why if it’s a fountain has it been placed there of all places – against the side corner of the Palazzo Vecchio? It’s a round fountain, meant for the middle of the square. I’m sure there’s something written about this subject, but for the moment I’ve turned off data roaming. I find out later that the fountain was an added feature. It seems that the original statute, “il Biancone”, didn’t go over so well with the public. So, it was decided to diminish the eyesore by building a waterpark. A decade later and there are lumpy bronze bodies and seahorses vying for our attention. Most times you just can’t save a bad beginning….

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There are a lot of OTT dramatics going on in the portico – gnashing teeth, flying hair, slashing swords, 7 percent body fat. I like that the Mannerist sculptors were really trying to render flesh, create a heighten reality of existence. Grasping fingers digging into a thick thigh, crows feet around a squinty eye, a rib cage pushing against skin. I know these are bravura details, but I’m a sucker for an artist with chops showing off. And to hone that point there’s the show-offs’ showoff, Cellini. We all know the story about the “single pour Perseus”, mainly because it’s the centerpiece of his autobiography. But somehow he also found the time in his Bio to brag that he chased skirts, brandished swords and escaped prisons. This made Cellini a reality star long before cable came along. His sculptures may or may not have been influential, but his bio actually did light up the imaginations of the artists that came after him. Swords were slung low on the waist, challenges were issued and taken, and a lot of OTT art was manufactured. A whole cottage industry of rude boy Mannerists found themselves getting into trouble, and not just in the studio. Later, a more infamous and better artist took Cellini’s career path a few steps further. Too bad for us Caravaggio’s swagger caught up with him in Porto Ercole. It seems there is a price for one’s hubris….

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Inside The Offices I can hardly breath. There are just too many people, and the paintings, all very dark and extremely unhappy, have begun to feel like bad news. I spend most of my time in the halls, standing next to breezy open windows and looking up at the decorative ceilings. I’m surprised that I’m enjoying the Grotesques so much. They are light and bawdy, quickly and expertly painted, filled with one-off vanity tales and self-conscious cartoon jokes. Many of them are paintings about painting with absolutely nothing taken too seriously. It’s a lesson that many of us never learn. For now it’s better to stay in the cool empty halls with my sardonic gargoyle relatives and leave the rest for the tourist aesthetes.

Santa Croce – May 2015

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I’m sitting in a grand apartment overlooking the square of Santa Croce. There are frescoes all around this room, floor to ceiling, of a pagan arcadia. The ruined classical architecture comes complete with statutes of naked strong men wearing modesty-saving robes both revealing and concealing their Equinox honed gym bodies. The artist has also given these windswept Schwarzeneggers impossibly huge haunches and very silly looking tiny heads. I’m sure this has something to do with the preoccupations of the age in which they were painted, but somehow this small-head-large-haunch aesthetic feels cable-ready “contemporary”.

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I have been wired and sleepless for about 36 hours rushing from taxi to airport to train and back again to get here. Finally passed out after a bottle of Cavalierino Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Spaghetti Carbonara. Both were delicious by the way. This morning I’m hung over and wondering how, exactly, I got here. But why does that matter? Sometimes one has to get out of one’s everyday life if only for a short time. It’s 6:32 am and this should be a quiet moment of intercontinental reorientation and a bit of soul searching, but alas, the painted arcadian moment has been invaded by a belching semi and a few smaller trucks rumbling into the square outside. Gangs of shouting men are driving fork lifts like Carny bumper cars and unloading stacks of gear for some upcoming weekend event. Haven’t a clue what’s about to unfold, but whatever’s going to happen, I fear, will be happening right here in my living room! Ah, Italia….

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Later today, my first full day in Florence, I’ll be looking up at Michele’s most enduring tribute to his beloved hometown, an athlete’s backside. And in a supplicant’s nod to the Krensification of the art world I have made an online appointment to see those Musei Firenzi branded buttocks. One can not simply stroll into the Accademia and have a silent conversation with the master. One must make a reservation as if one were dining at Barbuto or attending a Britney Spears concert run in Las Vegas. And though this seems ludicrous to me, adjustments must be made in our new corporate world of pay-to-play Culture. My Willy Wonka Golden Ticket will allow me to stand among the heaving hoards of photo snappers aiming their digital lenses at the world’s most well-regarded backside. Yes, I too am not above the moment and will brandish my iPhone right along with everybody else. I must feel as if I “belong”. Then I will silently pay tribute to the mighty midget who sculpted that giant and disappear into the world of back packs, Rick Steves Guidebooks and comfortable Birkenstocks. Apologies Michele, but the douche factor has done me in. A question dogs me – who is the more perverse participant in this outlandish confluence of strange connections across time and space – Michele and his louche reverence for a bit of rough, Krens and his Corporate commodification of high culture, or me for playing and paying along in this Postmodern burlesque?

Dennis Bellone

It is with the greatest sadness that I tell you that our friend, Dennis Bellone, has passed away. We are all heartbroken. Dennis was a wonderful man, a dearly loved father, a brave artist and a brilliant painter. Maybe in time the words will come, but for now, I will let you see the humanity, the humor, the heart and the remarkable gifts that he possessed.

We send our condolences to all who loved him.

http://www.dennisbellone.com/

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Godspeed and peace, my friend.

Thinking, Seeing, Painting – Further Conversations…

The conversation about Space in abstract painting, as all conversations do, has become a bit more personal and far ranging. It was inevitable. Words carry weight and if an artist is talking about one thing and doing another then things can be confusing. So in that spirit we take the comments/conversation into another public forum at Martin’s and Robin’s request.

Ok, then. Their tweets were for a discussion of the show that Martin’s curated, and you can click this linked text to read the essay and see some of the work.  Basically, I think this is Martin’s brief for the show:

“…we…are…artists who want to put back together what was torn asunder in painting over the last fifty years. We don’t ignore the ideas that motivated that deconstruction but work with them. There is a paring down of art to bare essences in the Greenbergian ethos of painting. And it extends to the point where artists start taking the very material and ground of the painting apart. Where does it end? The work of Kelley, Stella, Ryman, Tuttle and Richter, artists I’d like to label as artists of the ‘bare minimum’, informs our painting. They provide us with the iconic shapes and notions of canvas as sculpture set free by their research into the underpinnings of painting. But our plan is to do something different to them.”

 

It’s fairly easy in this way. Martin wants to show us work that understands and accepts the deconstruction of painting from Greenberg on to the present while perceiving/creating something “different” within that style. So do these works do this? What is different, what is this difference, how does it work?

Now Robin, who is adamant that painting find something new to paint about, has challenged Martin about his brief and this work. Basically, he’s saying that the show broaches nothing new, and he’s having a difficult time seeing in the work the things that Martin is saying about the work. And that’s about where we are. Here’s C&P from a comment Robin made in a  great conversation about abstract painting on Abcrit:

“So why can we not see a contemporary equivalent happening in abstract painting now? Why are we revelling in the facile geometry and the easy-peazy gesture of dinky little abstract paintings that can be knocked off three at a time of a Sunday afternoon? Is the association with past radical politics blinding us to the reality of the work? Why are we so tolerant of the lack of any kind of ambition…?”

 

I think this explains a little of the difference in viewpoints here.

Our conversation on space – space in painting, space in sculpture, what it means at this moment in time, what it means for the future of both of these disciplines – shows that “change” is becoming a real concern. And I think this is the subtext of our discussion on Space – what could abstract painting become, what should abstract painting do to make itself new? And I don’t mean that in the Modern sense! So in this vein let’s see if this conversation will continue…

21st Century Space?

The discussion of John Seed’s article on new figurative art opened up a lively back and forth about the past, present and future and the direction of painting and sculpture. I thought we might continue in a new post directed specifically at the meaning and use of space in 21st century. I think that the way we approach space, understand it has to be thought through once again. Modernism for the most part relied on what would typically be understood as a flat landscape space. This had a great deal to do with the fact that abstraction was not interested in depicting space but using space. Illusion of any kind, except maybe in the case of optical illusion or accidental illusion, was verboten. For the Modernist there are only theoretical spaces, spiritual or “sublime” spaces, but never figurative ones.

Greenberg’s Neo-Modernism set the final distinctions for space in abstract painting, and taken to its logical outcome, brought painting to an exploration of its tools and techniques – materiality and process – a thing on the wall, a thing on the floor, or a thing in the room. One does not look “into” a painting, painting is no longer an image to be seen, but it is a thing to be encountered. It is a physical reality, a form made manifest, and if you’ll forgive me Robin, a near sculptural thing. For abstraction Minimalism is the endpoint, endgame. The logocentric form, the unassailed logic of the surface and side, the reneging of any kind of illusion brought abstraction into the Postmodern era.

Of course this grew up right along with appropriation and the proliferation of the lens-based image – the reproduced image, the found image, and/or the overlaid image – all of it aimed at the space of the Neo-Modern surface. Lens-based images were used as flat things to collage over the empty “billboard” maintaining the appearance of Neo-Modern space. What remained in this photo based art was process, materiality and of course flatness – the hallmarks of consumer production. In this case Murakami’s idea of the Superflat hits the nail on the head. This space is a hybrid of the Neo-Modern space elucidated by Greenberg and the Cold War aesthetics of Mad Man culture. Clem’s idea is that this is Kitsch space, and it’s manifested in the consumer culture developed in the 20th century. It’s in these spaces that the Pop artists were able to connect consumer culture to Modernist theoretics, where retro-painting of all kinds links to market spaces, where the economics of auction house art truly exists. None of this work is directed at physical vision. It is produced and manufactured like any other economic abstraction – like junk bonds, housing bubbles, quantitative easing, or derivatives. What we are talking about is the space of exchange value, where actual vision is not needed or expected, where physical encounters slow the flow of abstraction. This kind of space is meant for the screen, the lens and the program. Space that goes nowhere, defines nothing and is infinitely flat. Space designed not to be seen but to be sold.

This is where abstraction has come to in the 21st Century. And I think this is an interesting place to be. We have a chance to redefine vision in this new abstract environment, recreate abstract space, outside of the program. Robin Greenwood believes that painting cannot accomplish such thing without resorting to figurative means, and if I’ve read him correctly, abstraction cannot exist in a figurative space, at least not on canvas. For Robin, it is sculpture that has a better chance at redefining these abstract spaces, making them more “figurative,” let’s say. John Seed takes this a bit further and actually says that pictorial figuration is the key to moving on. He insists that we must look back to our history to find a precedent, some idea of vision that may make fleshy sense of the current spatial dilemma. And Martin Mugar agreed with this idea of our extensive history being a resource. His further point that one’s personal vision determines the processes for seeing and painting makes a great deal of sense to me. His article about Cezanne finding a specific technique related to both his hand and his eye is a wonderful elucidation of the way we might move forward and define a different kind of space, a more quirky and personal one.

Of course all of this is a simplistic wrap up of the discussion, but I think that we are rounding onto something interesting. So I throw it out there once again – what is space at this stage of abstraction’s development? Is it possible for painting to move ahead (or backward) to a different kind of space and would that include abstraction? Can painting rework the Modern legacy of those early years of the 20th Century and find a different idea of what space might look like here in the 21st Century? Can a figurative space exist with abstraction? As Robin and Martin stated, there were a lot of ideas left unexplored  in the work of Matisse and Cezanne, (and I might add Picasso) ideas about space, form and composition that were never developed in the Modern Century. And I have to ask once again – is it possible to make abstract painting without the Modern legacy and what would that look like?

Paul Corio – Seen in New York: January, 2015

To begin: A special thanks to Henri Art Magazine for providing a new home for “Seen in New York” after the untimely demise of Abstract Critical.  I’ve been genuinely enjoying chronicling the broad reemergence of abstract painting in New York, albeit in my own highly opinionated way, and it’s my goal to continue writing these round-ups in September and January when so many things open all at once.

The New Year got underway with a lot of hard-edged painting.  I’ve been trying to figure out if there was actually more than there has been in the past couple of years, or it’s simply a case of my own taste acting a filter – the latter can’t be dismissed, but I think that it’s actually the former.  Here are some of my favorite shows that opened in January:

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Warren Isensee, Surface Noise, 2014.  Oil on canvas, 60” x 60.”

Warren Isensee opened a particularly strong solo exhibition at Danese Corey.  There were generally fewer of the labyrinthine compositions that I associate with Isensee’s work, in favor of more centralized compositions, many of which were stripped down to a confident and nervy simplicity.  It’s not minimalist by any stretch, but he’s using the field as a kind of frame and ground simultaneously.  This leaner approach with varied spatial readings was for me most effectively exemplified in Nine by Eleven from 2014, in which a flickering red grid floats in (or is surrounded by) a yellow field over a decidedly landscape-like brown bar at the bottom of the canvas.  As to the more maximalist canvases on view, I particularly enjoyed Surface Noise from 2014.  It was a rock solid, centrally composed grid, but the celebratory approach to color kept it from feeling static or rigid.

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Julie Oppermann, TH1225, 2012.  Acrylic on canvas, 82” x 72.”  Photo by Etienne Frossard.

Mixed Greens started off the year with a group exhibition in which there were several painters I’ve admired for some time, plus some who were news to me.  Anyone who’s read this column in the past knows how enthusiastic I am about Vince Contarino’s work.  He had two small canvases in the show; Space Invaders form 2014 featured his signature blend of gestural and geometric – his greatest strength – and NT/NF/16, also 2014, was more of an uninterrupted field, something I haven’t seen from him before and that I would really like to see on a much larger scale.  Suzanne Song contributed two tromp l’oeil abstractions (Slitslip and Centerfold, both 2014) in which the surfaces were built up in a thick, sandy relief.  The painted shadows and the actual shadows cast by the impasto created a loopy confusion between the real and the illusionistic – these paintings were playful in the best possible sense.  Even further into the realm of the impasto party was Zander Blom, whose candy colors and toothpaste application really should have been an undergrad disaster, but were instead quite terrific.  He had four paintings in the show, and I tended to gravitate toward the more restrained compositions, even though lack of restraint was generally their key feature; Untitled (1.615) from 2014 was my favorite.  I’ve always wondered whether Julie Opperman chose her painting style based on her name, but whatever the case may be her TH1225 from 2012 was the largest picture in the show and was a real stunner.  Its flashing moiré patterns and paint smears together read like a gestural abstraction that had been run through a shredder and then reassembled.

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Dan Walsh, Landing, 2010.  Acrylic on canvas, 55” x 90.”  © Dan Walsh.  Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

Dan Walsh opened a museum-style 20-year retrospective at Paula Cooper, with paintings, drawings, and books made between 1994 and 2014.  I’m always interested in agglomerations of this kind, because they invariably show the strength and evolution or conversely the limitations of an artist’s vision over time.  The former was definitely on display here – Walsh started off with a quirky, personal take on geometric abstraction and has slowly pushed and pulled it into subtly different directions.  Without ever really changing course from a fairly limited set of motifs, he’s achieved a surprising amount of variety.  The two paintings from 2010 (at least one of which I remember seeing at the time) really stood out for me.  The orange grid over a slightly wider maroon grid in Landing glowed with the intensity of a computer screen.  Playing the fully saturated color against the more earthy underlying grid and the subtle warm grey ground activated the orange in a profound way.  The framing elements at the top and sides (but not the bottom) gave it structure without boxing it in.  Framing was also a key feature in Grotto, which conjured up Islamic architecture.  The transparency of the yellow grid over the dark ground in the center read like light or projection, which created a nice tension against the solidity of the architectural references.

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Kellyann Burns, 8:29 PM 8/22/12, 2012.  Oil on alu-dibond, 30” x 24.”  Courtesy of the artist and McKenzie Fine Art, New York.

Kellyann Burns showed a convincing group of hard-edged abstractions at McKenzie Fine Art.  The blocks of color were applied in layers then patiently and methodically scraped, sanded and reapplied – even the more uniform, opaque areas of color betrayed some small evidence of this continual re-working, and at their best there were shades of Hans Hoffman.  There were essentially three ranges of scale, with the large paintings around 5’ high, and the small ones only 10.”  I tended to respond to the medium size pictures best – their scale situated the viewer close enough to the surface to really appreciate the subtle undulations of color, but still gave the artist enough surface area to create nuance and surprise.  I saw the show twice and both times was drawn straight to 8:29 PM 8/22/12 at 30” x 24.”  The central color was hard to name and the smeared transparency at the bottom felt like it was in motion.  The thin red bar at the top was a terrific way of completing the composition; it created a roof for the picture, but in a most understated way.

cheyney_thompson

Cheyney Thompson, StochasticProcessPainting(84048 steps) = FunctionalPath(i)(840.48 meters, 2015.  Oil on canvas, 81 1/4” x 161 13/16.”  Image courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York.

I’ve been very hesitant to wade in to the whole Zombie Formalism debate.  Its central conceit (although never stated in this way) is that the visual lacks profundity; that some culturally urgent subject is what gives art its importance.  The Cheyney Thompson show at Andrew Kreps seemed to me to unwittingly provide a great refutation of this position.  These paintings of grids over grids, with pale digitization and tantalizing suggestions of the photographic within the stubbornly abstract, were fantastic – one of my favorite shows of the new year.  I only later learned that the images were derived from “the random walk algorithm, a formalization of Brownian motion that is used in financial instruments to model market behavior” (quoted from the press release).  This information neither added nor detracted anything to these wonderful paintings – its only significance being that it created a starting point for compelling images.  It begins and ends with the visual for me and if that makes me a zombie, then so be it; I could spend a long time stiffly shambling back and forth in front of Thompson’s StochasticProcessPainting(84048 steps) = FunctionalPath(i)(840.48 meters). Being undead would render me blissfully ignorant of the information embedded in the picture’s title.

clinton_king

Clinton King, Almost Me, 2014.  Oil on linen, 64” x 50.”

Clinton King was featured in the inaugural exhibition at Transmitter in Ridgewood, Queens with a solo show entitled “Open Ended,” comprised of seven 20” x 16” paintings and four that were 64” x 50”.  The small ones were witty, but the large ones were terrific, and played with the gaps between the painterly illusion of depth and the literally two-dimensional in a variety of ways.  The grounds in each were composed of somewhat wavy stripes in muted and subtly modulated colors that were softened and blended at the edges, and which conjured landscapes, seascapes, and cloudscapes – the traditional space (both literally and metaphorically) of painting from Poussin through impressionism.  A loosely drawn faming element was added by what looked like a finger being smeared through the paint; the kind of drawing you might see someone make on a dirty or frosty car window.  Added to this were simple compositions of thin black stripes, which were given subtle drop shadows – they seemed to float about ¼” above the picture plane.  This index of spaces kept these deceptively simples paintings endlessly interesting.  My favorite was Almost Me; it was the most saturated of the bunch, and the placement of the finger-painted smears and the black stripes were the reverse of the above description.

This piece is getting long, and I don’t want to test the patience of my new host, or you, the reader.  So briefly:

gary_petersen

Gary Petersen, Another Life, 2014.  Acrylic on Canvas, 20” x 16.”

Gary Petersen opened a strong solo at Theodore:Art.  The big draw was two large murals painted directly on the gallery walls, but I must say that the large assortment of small paintings really knocked me out.  In the last year Petersen has added a few new motifs to his usual selection of stripes and frames, and they’re working.  Look for Another Life from 2014, in which the planes, ellipses, and bands all posit different spatial vantage points.  Siri Berg showed color-driven work from the 70s through the 90s at Hionas Gallery.  The three lovely Kabballah paintings in the front were strongly influenced by minimalism yet still incredibly poetic.  Sarah Eichner hung a nice group of op-inspired canvases at Sears Peyton.  The obsessive, recessional space of Spectrum Flags and the layered perspective matrices of Spectrum Weave 3 were especially compelling.  “Working Knowledge” was a large, ambitious group show in a bootstrappy, artist-run space called Lorimoto in Ridgewood, Queens.  There was lots to like, but I was especially taken with contributions by Robert Otto Epstein, Ryan Dawalt, and Rob De Oude.  Another strong group exhibition was “Elements” at Minus Space.  There were solid paintings from Li Trincere, Cris Gianakos, Vincent Como, and the venerable Mark Dagley, but the real star was Rachel Beach – I generally don’t have much valuable insight into the discussion of sculpture, but her work is awfully hard to ignore.

Paul Corio

January, 2015

Gallery Links:
Danese Corey: http://www.danesecorey.com
Mixed Greens: http://www.mixedgreens.com
Paula Cooper Gallery: http://www.paulacoopergallery.com
McKenzie Fine Art: http://www.mckenziefineart.com
Andrew Kreps Gallery: http://www.andrewkreps.com
Transmitter: http://www.transmitter.nyc
Theodore:Art: http://theodoreart.com
Hionas Gallery: http://www.hionasgallery.com
Sears Peyton Gallery: http://www.searspeyton.com
Lorimoto: http://www.lorimoto.com
Minus Space: http://www.minusspace.com