November 6, 2008

"Part of an artist’s job is to do something that hasn’t been done before, not something that has been done to death."

In the NY Times, Roberta Smith writes that déjà vu is an occupational hazard of art criticism. "You walk out of one gallery and into another only to see what appears to be the show you just left, all over again....Yet, as art formulas go, nothing beats paintings based on photographs. There must be hundreds of such works in progress at all times around the globe, usually involving newspaper images, opaque projectors and any number of materials: traditional oils, buttons, you name it. It is something of an art-world plague, and the point is driven home by current shows at the Charles Cowles Gallery and at Luhring Augustine in Chelsea. In both galleries, steps apart on West 24th Street, you encounter large brushy grisaille paintings based on newspaper images or other photographs. The elephant in the room in both cases is the German painter Gerhard Richter, especially his drizzly gray images of the members of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang and their funerals.The paintings at Cowles are by Xiaoze Xie, a 42-year-old Chinese-born painter who teaches art at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa....At Luhring you’ll find the New York debut of Johannes Kahrs, a German painter born in 1965 who lives in Berlin.

"I am sure that advocates of these two artists (especially their dealers) could argue at length, and probably convincingly, for the marked differences between their work. The harder you look at each show, the more differences you may even be able to eke out. But for me it’s all too close for comfort as well as derivative of the influential Mr. Richter. Part of an artist’s job is to do something that hasn’t been done before, not something that has been done to death." Read more.

"Xiaoze Xie," Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY. Through Nov. 8.

"Johannes Kahrs: Eyes on His Body," Luhring Augustine, New York, NY. Through Nov. 8.

3 comments:

Xie is a doctrinaire social realist dressing it up in the black and white/old press photo bit - which is hardly unique to Richter.

Actually Richter rarely used topical political subjects drawn from the popular press. Certainly NEVER used the broad stroked modelling favoured by Chinese Socialist Realism.

Kahrs on the other hand evinces almost nothing of the popular press in choice of photo sources - and little of Richter's rigor to camera/print traits in composition. Indeed Kahr's palette is not exclusively B&W (much less a 'grisaille' - see
http://www.luhringaugustine.com/index.php?mode=artists&object_id=84

Part of the critic's job is to be able to accurately discern signature styles, such as Richter's, and to attribute the influence along with others in new artists. This is actually the only measure of what the artist has been able to do differently.

Apart from black and white palettes, it's hard to see anything that links the two artists, even briefly, for neither is especially slavish to photography. For that matter it's hard to see Richter as the sole or abiding influence to either artist.

It's a shame Smith is so insensitive and impatient on really very elementary features to the works, but we all have our blind sides.

I can sympathise with Roberta Smith's comments but at the same time find them both naive & romantic. The first point is that as painters we all stand on somebody else's shoulders; our perceptions of what painting is or could be is filtered through what has already been achieved through the millenia. The second is that now dissemination of the image, whether by travelling exhibitions, books, television,catalogues and the Internet is so fast and vast that the 'new' of today is the ancient of tomorrow. And finally her pleading that "part of an artist’s job is to do something that hasn’t been done before, not something that has been done to death" sounds beguiling but it seems to invite the idea that 'novelty' has a value per se whereas I would suggest that the very search for the 'novel' has undermined the possibility of the 'new'.

I don't know. I think I am glad she called them on it.

I showed my Women in Targets collages to a California dealer who said it looked like Laurie Simmons. It looks nothing like her.

But she is a woman using images of women in her work. It was more about our biographies than the work, that was the thread.

Meanwhile the dealer was showing right at that time an artist who did the kind of work Smith is talking about - to a T. In fact he even claimed in the big glossy catalogue that if there was any artist he could relate to, it was Richter. Well, duh. But somehow it was fine to show the guy who looked just like another guy, whereas the dealer told me that he would have to "explain" and "defend" how my work was not Laurie Simmons. If it's good for the goose....