April 11, 2008

Schwabsky tours the New York galleries in search of genre painting

In The Nation Barry Schwabsky reveals a number of talented artists exploring the possibilities of "bad" representational painting. "'Painting as we know it,' Alberto Giacometti lamented in 1962, near the end of his life, 'has no future in our civilization.... There will always be people who would like to have a picturesque landscape, or a nude, or a bouquet of flowers hanging on the wall,' he went on, 'but what we call great painting is finished.' Giacometti's pessimism aside, it's worth noticing his dismissive citation of those humble, nearly contentless genres that seem to exist for no other reason than to proffer an ordinary pleasure; evidently, landscapes and still lifes represent the abjection of painting. Today, when indifference to Modernist notions of artistic progress has become common, for painting to enact its own abjection by dwelling on the banal or trivial has become an almost self-evident strategy; this must have seemed a much stranger thing to do back in the '50s, when Abstract Expressionism was at its pinnacle and reaching for the sublime was second nature for an ambitious painter.

"Yet that's exactly what a number of talented and sometimes ambitious painters in New York began to do at the start of that decade--artists of whom the senior figure, Fairfield Porter, who died in 1975, remains the best known but among whose ranks were several still active today. These include Jane Freilicher, who recently showed new paintings at New York City's Tibor de Nagy Gallery, where she first exhibited in 1952. Freilicher had been a student of Hans Hoffmann, who spread the gospel of abstraction in America and whose teachings inspired its foremost critical proponent, Clement Greenberg. No provincial, Freilicher was taking a calculated risk: to find a way to paint that could be, as Porter wrote of that first show in 1952, both traditional and radical." Sorry. If you want to read more you'll either have to subscribe to The Nation or swing by the library tomorrow.

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