In her NYTimes review of Daniel Heidkamp's show at White Columns, Roberta Smith articulates one of the problems she sees with contemporary painting: that artists are playing it too safe.
[Image at top: Daniel Heidkamp ]
The three main shows at White Columns form a meditation on current painting tactics. In one small gallery, Patrick Berran very capably meets the demand for Minimalist paintings made by largely hands-off methods — in his case, layers of photocopy transfers dominated by a pattern that reads as leopard skin or moisture condensation, depending on its size. Nearby, Jennifer Nichols works with thin, bright acrylic, creating abstract tumults of transparent brushwork and, more recently, calmer arrangements of letterlike shapes. Both artists show promise, but so far they are operating within fashionable styles rather than making the work that only they can make.
In the large central gallery, Daniel Heidkamp makes paintings that seem fully his own, while doing more than his bit for a wryly self-conscious representational painting. (Other practitioners include Jonas Wood, Dana Schutz, Josephine Halvorson, Leidy Churchman, Aliza Nisenbaum.) He operates with an effortless, loose-limbed flair and even a bit of newness in an area that would seem pretty exhausted: plein-air landscape painting.
Smith has a point--a lot of painting these days has a common aesthetic-- perhaps because artists perceive that they are facing a kind of Catch-22. If their paintings aren't aesthetically unusual enough, painters are accused of bowing to trends and ultimately to the market. Last month Jerry Saltz lambasted galleries for promoting artists who produce "brand-name reductivist canvases, all more or less handsome, harmless, supposedly metacritical, and just 'new' or 'dangerous'-looking enough not to violate anyone’s sense of what 'new' or 'dangerous' really is, all of it impersonal, mimicking a set of preapproved influences." On the other hand, if artists make paintings that are too idiosyncratic, galleries and curators are less likely to put their work in exhibitions, and they risk being left outside the current cultural conversation.
What artists may be overlooking is the value of patience. Rather than catering to current biases, emerging artists today might consider simply forging ahead and developing their own vision in the sensible belief that the dialogue will eventually come around to them. Art history proves that it takes time for pioneering artists to win over the critical and collecting communities. The fact that critics are tired of "current painting tactics" would seem to validate a much more personal, less formulaic approach.
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