I was considering going to the Met Breuer “Unfinished…” when I walked into “Nice Weather”, and that is probably why I started wondering if these paintings were finished. The Met has pitched a curveball at contemporary art– or do I mean the knuckleball “where the ball flutters with an unpredictable movement which can make the pitch tough to hit and catch?” *
Roberta Smith reviewed “Unfinished…” and noted that the “catalog makes it clearer than the wall labels that the history of Western art, and especially painting, is in many ways a march away from high polish toward unfinishedness, which is primary to modernism.”
Wow, I did not know that! And it makes so much more sense for the Painting is Dead idea because instead of Painting becoming abstracter and abstracter, It becomes more and more unfinished until it becomes, you know– unstarted.
Nicole Wittenberg’s “Red Kiss”, for ex., could be an underpainting. Bringing it to a “higher polish” might be difficult though. If the faces were more specific, the very real thrusting movement toward and pulling in to the embrace might be lessened and I assume the painter thought more would be lost than gained by any further work on the painting. There is a bit too much painterly accident in it to satisfy me though and the thought of stealing it would not have come up if security in the fancy suit had not paid me so much attention—it is small and fit neatly under a coat.
In this mood I looked at the Katz, the painter is one of my favorites but not the painting, and I thought “Is it as finished as other Katz’s?”
Losing interest in this theme, which by the way is one of the reasons why paintings and other stuff traditionally is left unfinished, I see an urge here to burrow beneath the surface, reinvent pictorial space and invite us in–while an opposite urge reneges on the offer.
Amy Sillman does this most directly and cleverly by painstakingly constructing an entranceway that leads to a womb. I, at least, felt like going there but was roughly wrenched back to the realization that I was looking at a painting by a flat green right angle that in no way harmonized with the warm yellow/purple palette of the womb. I’m torn; the intellectual/painter in me is so taken with it, but the Id wants what it wants.
Charline von Heyl is more half-hearted but she, too, creates larger shapes to the right that create dimension– and in every other way including the charcoal squiggles and the look of a paper strip pasted on the upper mid flattens out the space.
Richard Aldrich sets up complex spatial signifiers (or maybe it would be better to use the word “hints” since I’ve begun to hate the word “signifiers.” ) So anyway, there are white balls with black outlines that might be bigger than other outlined light balls because they are CLOSER, an echoing shape that might be further away because it’s bluer or it’s a shadow and a pink strip across the top that might be behind black lines that cross it. I didn’t think “Oh, it is a seated figure from the waist down” when I was looking at it in the gallery maybe because the size and the white edges belied that reading.
In all the paintings I’ve mentioned and others, it is the whites that suggest “unfinishedness” but might be more related to the idea of drawing, suggesting the canvas as a field and the surface as a positive and having nothing to do with “finishedness”, my new favorite word.
PS: I did think for a bit about space and Escherish denial of space and you know if you look up Moebius strip, it all seems so exciting to people, the inside folding into the outside but maybe also No Exit—I’m not sure that feel so good. – CNQ
*Doug Bernier at Pro Baseball Insider
to read more of What Meets the Eye