January 14, 2010

"Artists are at their most canny and resourceful when backed—or painted—into a corner"


Installation view of “Besides, With, Against, and Yet: Abstraction and the Ready-Made Gesture."


In Artforum, Colby Chamberlain suggests that “Besides, With, Against, and Yet: Abstraction and the Ready-Made Gesture” makes an important proposition. "Arguably the two key artistic inventions of the twentieth century are abstraction and the readymade. Abstraction was by turns utopian and expressive, purporting to withdraw from painting the burdens of history or to channel a pure emotional charge. The readymade smuggled the everyday into art, a stealth move that illuminated and unsettled its linguistic, legal, and institutional supports. The two inventions have on occasion converged—see: Johns, Jasper—but like oil and water remained distinct. In the twenty-first century, however, artists have begun to treat the history of abstraction itself as a catalogue of styles open to appropriation. In short, the readymade devoured abstraction whole.

"This argument commands attention given the many compelling artists whom curator Debra Singer corrals into it—Jutta Koether, Seth Price, Cheyney Thompson, and R. H. Quaytman, to name a few—but it also invites ambivalence. Thus merged, abstraction and the readymade risk canceling out each other’s legacies. The secondhand status of a readymade sunders abstraction from its aspirational and emotive content, whereas the uninflected appearance of an abstract painting curbs the readymade’s penchant for mischief. (To this day, nothing accommodates the definition of 'art' so comfortably as stretched canvas.) Hung together in this context, the works dangle precipitously over a conveyor belt of art as art as art—the endless concatenation of an emptied category. Singer raises the stakes by forgoing wall texts for the individual works, leaving the conceptual maneuvers that differentiate them up to the viewer’s astute deduction or prior knowledge.

"The participating artists’ larger bodies of work complicate this account, but the exhibition nevertheless demands reckoning. Either it restricts to a disheartening extent what painting today can say and how it can function or it bolsters confidence in a still defensible belief: that artists are at their most canny and resourceful when backed—or painted—into a corner."

In a Village Voice review of the show RC Baker concluded that just when he thought the aesthetic chops of some artists had trumped the show's conceptual conceits,  Kelley Walker's small canvas, 4870 Series presented itself. "The size of a notebook page, I'd barely noticed it, but when I leaned in to study the almost blank white ground, my eyes registered tiny Benday dots. What I'd thought was a spare painting was actually a 'four-color process silkscreen on canvas' and the unassuming image suddenly became a sly koan—a mechanical print scarcely discernible from the wall it hung upon. Depending on your mind's bent, such an image might conjure Magritte's picture of a pipe, which is, of course, not a pipe, or Malevich's white on white Supremacist painting, or ruminations on the visual prevarications of our Photoshopped age. Not enough to look at, but plenty to think about."

Besides, With, Against, and Yet: Abstraction and the Ready-Made Gesture,” curated by Debra Singer. The Kitchen, New York, NY. Through January 16. Artists include Richard Aldrich, Polly Apfelbaum, Kerstin Brätsch, Ana Cardoso, Jessica Dickinson,Cheryl Donegan, Keltie Ferris, Wade Guyton, Jaya Howey, Alex Hubbard, Jacqueline Humphries, Jacob Kassay, Jutta Koether, Nate Lowman, Seth Price, R.H. Quaytman, Blake Rayne, Davis Rhodes, Cheyney Thompson, Patricia Treib, Charline von Heyl, and Kelley Walker



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