July 12, 2014

Roberta Smith on "current painting tactics"


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 ]

She writes:
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.
 Jennifer Nichols

 Patrick Berran

 Daniel Heidkamp

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.

Related posts:
Responses to "Zombie Formalism"
Speculating on Andy Boot

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6 comments:

"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."

This is one of the reasons so many artists like myself who are art professors make bland work is because they desperately need shows for tenure.

Thanks...great article...I personally love the "new" aesthetic (some works / artists more than others, naturally...the ones who have given smart consideration to their work) but I don't much care for the trend of artists changing who they are; artists who were previously working in a whole different direction, to fit the new "look". Seems an odd thing to do; the abandonment of one's self for the trend. It is nice, however, that we are seeing some great new works in the vein however, the quality works.

Is it off base to be reminded of Alex Katz' landscapes?

Nice article! I particularly agree with this "Art history proves that it takes time for pioneering artists to win over the critical and collecting communities." People want and don't want change at the same time!

I think it's because most dealers and curators just want to sell art. There is plenty of challenging and exciting work out there, and even aesthetically pleasing. People who can afford to buy luxury items also want them to "match the couch." Many dealers know nothing about the history or processes of fine art. They follow the herd.

I am reminded of the old expression "pity the pretty".