Such a pity that—
—just when “Painting Forever III” shows how urgently they are needed.
Skirting a doesn’t-belong-in-this-set Rachel Harrison, and encountering a slick line of cat mandalas, really? Side glance at a shiny Sam Gilliam, 360 degree spin to a couple of boring Dodds. I admire her work, but not these, though to their credit they are an earnest attempt to paint from observation, the only such attempt in this five gallery show. Right turn into a small room with two Pindells and a Johns. The Pindells have a rough delicacy, a lacy lightheartedness that is not lessened but enhanced by the rough battlefield stitching that binds the wounds, holding them together. Why is the Johns, an experiment in image decentralization, hung next to them? It seems to be because of that central blankness— and a complete misunderstanding of the impetus behind these disparate works.
This type of misunderstanding continues throughout the show. Colescott’s Pac-Man… is sort of a corny mess, but a mess that has a visual energy completely lacking in anything else in the room. What works in Pac-Man…is the hallucinating flip of the gestalt that’s set up by the flattened outlines of the figures and the way they run into the edges of the painting.
This is the very small painting placed next to the Colescott and seeming to glance over at it—a bit of snarky kitsch with trompe l’oeil. It’s reductive.
Big Heads, mostly grinning, is another theme that runs through the show. In my view, painting from photographs doesn’t work as subject matter for painting (unless the photograph itself is an object). The spontaneity of the original photo is lost in the laborious time it takes to paint it and what is gained by actually observing a human being for the time it takes to paint one is missing too.
Oddly these two Zhaos face a coupla Big Heads and a few cartoony works and their quiet cryptic austerity is hard to see. These are paintings that consider the canvas as a whole, combining a question as to how we see and allowing the meaning to develop in the viewer’s mind—as opposed to the presentation of images and literal illustrations and jokes that dominate the show.
Here also is a painting that I’ll just go ahead and call a real painting and I was very drawn to it—A painter friend who I happened to meet disagreed; she said, “All I see is photo-collage.” I see what she means and yet the exaggerated painting of the negative space, the subdued palette, the yellow flowers next to the yellow door, the way the bugle player is almost indistinguishable from the trees and the question that arose in my mind as to whether he has begun to play—I spent a while on this one.
TBC…transcended its surrounding works: some doodles and a section of a semi- truck, it’s truly masterful, so easy—so tempting to see it as a landscape.
(Without going into any particular example, I’d like to call a moratorium on taped lines, just to force painters into learning other skills.)
What is diversity, or pluralism for that matter? Is it just artists who eagerly participate in branding themselves, dealers who insist on it, collectors who want one of each and critics with no mission beyond advertising?
Another comment from my painter friend: “Where’s the struggle?” She means that struggle to connect that is very unlike presenting the viewer with an image. She also mentioned that her university has a mandatory class in mastering The Elevator Pitch. Does that bother you or do you see it as smart?
The hanging of the shows made me recall Foucault’s preface to “The Order of Things” (it’s fascinating but that’s as far as I got). Here’s an appropriate section, and a link to the whole is below:
“It appears that certain aphasiacs, when shown various differently colored skeins of wool on a table top, are consistently unable to arrange them into any coherent pattern; as though that simple rectangle were unable to serve in their case as a homogeneous and neutral space in which things could be placed so as to display at the same time the continuous order of their identities or differences as well as the semantic field of their denomination. Within this simple space in which things are normally arranged and given names, the aphasiac will create a multiplicity of tiny, fragmented regions in which nameless resemblances agglutinate things into unconnected islets; in one corner, they will place the lightest-colored skeins, in another the red ones, somewhere else those that are softest in texture, in yet another place the longest, or those that have a tinge of purple or those that have been wound up into a ball. But no sooner have they been adumbrated than all these groupings dissolve again, for the field of identity that sustains them, however limited it may be, is still too wide not to be unstable; and so the sick mind continues to infinity, creating groups then dispersing them again, heaping up diverse similarities, destroying those that seem clearest, splitting up things that are identical, superimposing different criteria, frenziedly beginning all over again, becoming more and more disturbed, and teetering finally on the brink of anxiety.
“…teetering finally on the brink of anxiety. ” That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
Preface to The Order of Things, Michel Foucault, 1966