Art is just about the furthest thing from mind these days. Looking at painting – usually a favorite thing to do – has become a task rather than a joy. When looking at the torrents of art online – it becomes quickly apparent that artists continue to employ the strategies, ideas and outcomes of the past – in different hands, by different means and in different languages – to be sure – yet it feels like just more of the samo-samo. Could be the lockdown, the social distancing and/or the daily infernal sameness of time and space weighing into the mix – or it may just be the end of something. Have yet to decide. Still there have been a few bright spots in this moment – a bit of fun and life showing up.
Everyone online was hyped up by Amy Sillman’s show and this show was indeed a lot of fun. Amy’s work is wonderfully off-kilter and distinctly painterly – lots of refined clumsy drawing (a most attractive thing at the moment) – but in truth there was nothing in the show that would change your mind about her work – or for that matter – contemporary painting in general. Look, it’s difficult for painting in this century – and I get that. In the last one – the 20th – painting set itself a grand task which was to break down the histories and theoretics of our understanding of Art. No small thing that – and much of that work was bold, brash, controversial and always weird and frightening – even to the practitioners of the art. But that’s all over now. 21st century paintings are more like apps – they are programmed to work with Modernism’s operating system – or as my old man used to say – we’re just polishing the brass.
I’ve always admired painters willing to risk being seriously and thoughtfully silly – and Amy’s work fits that bill. The just released book of her collected writings is filled with that kind of humor (like her paintings) – one of the favorites – a letter to her friend Jackie explaining why she broke up with abstraction. “I kicked A out of my studio this summer, and afterwards I felt really good. I had this amazing fling, don’t tell anyone, but I had this fling with this face, and I don’t know, that was the straw that tipped the iceberg and I just went with it.” [Amy Sillman Faux Pas 2020] – a straw and an iceberg – wonderful.
Good friends Mike Zahn and Paul Corio made their presence known during this COVID autumn as well. Paul’s show was at McKenzie Fine Arts – and because it was an “in person” show – viewing restrictions were involved. And those restrictions seemed to play up Paul’s work – systems working within systems to combat something fucked up. The AbOp structures are classic (stretching back to the Roman Empire) and his color feels decadent and surreal – like DeChirico. The painting “Pecan Pattie” (in the photo above on the right) nicely disturbs one’s expectations with its subtle and strange color variations, slightly clunky illusionistic patterning and the way the ground shifts from top to bottom. This image never settles in – the same way the pandemic keeps changing and morphing before our eyes.
James Kalm has a nice video walk through and commentary of Paul’s show which you might find interesting!
James describes this shifting of expectations in Paul’s work – “I think one of the the interesting things about the way that Paul went for one of his compositional ideas (of using the horse racing [system]) is that when you’re working with [a] pretty strict geometric system… if you don’t somehow introduce some kind of chance or spontaneous something in there… it can get pretty boring, pretty fast.” Sounds like a sound bit of whiskey philosophy…
Mike did an online exhibition which is not only timely, but extremely smart. It was perceptively reviewed by Seph Rodney – “The show is both meta and melancholy. I could be there. And so sadly looking at the life I might have, someone could ask me what’s wrong. “Nothing,” I would say, reflexively, to stave off my own grief. Zahn projects these images to outsource his own desolation. “No. I’m not crying,” he seems to say. “You’re crying.”” Mike bypasses our expectations of art and painting – value judgments such as good or bad – what’s real – what isn’t. The captured image within the image of an empty gallery which traffics in images undermines the codes and constructs of not only the images presented, but the conveyors of these images – the electronic and economic systems set up to present those images, the critiques engendered by those presentations as well as the social expectations and implications built into these systems. Everything is shifting – up for grabs… We see this existential drama unfolding all throughout the art world these days – from the auction houses right through to the artists’ studios. Once we disappear the scene, the system, the city and the reason that those things exist – what’s left? Mike’s contemplating the answer as he prepares a text – everything – nothing.
Another thing that has been extremely enjoyable has been Matthew Collings intimate and semi-fictional art history drawings on Instagram. These drawings have been brilliant – to say the least – and in the time of lockdown a welcome distraction from the everyday grind. There are so many things to love about these images – the cartoonish satire, the formal elements, the portraiture, and particularly, the clouds of filterless cigarette smoke – it’s hard to pin down exactly why they’re good – and that’s probably why they are good. He’s managed to be both engaging and inventive in presenting our art history favorites as they engage in hubris and anxiety, love and hate, and the requisite sex, drugs and rock & roll. I highly recommend you check these out – and if you have the cash – these drawings are on sale through the #artistsupportpledge. Wonderful Matthew!