February 22, 2014

Quick Study: Enough already, what's next, a new painting blog and more

Who knew painting (and art writing) still had the power to evoke such outrage? Some artists and writers, unhappy with the provisional and casualist approach that I've been observing for the past few years, have been wondering why this type of work has gotten so much ink and pixels. Abstract Critical, a UK publication that has complained endlessly about this direction, both in long form and on Twitter, published an essay by Alan Pocaro arguing that Raphael Rubinstein and I are to blame for inventing the whole damn thing. Franklin Einspruch agrees. Thanks, guys, that's flattering, but really? Jessica Snow wrote a note after I recently reposted the Christie's article (The Casualist Tendency) to suggest that I'm flogging a dead horse. Well, the provisional/casualist approach isn't dead--I see it embedded everywhere--but artists and writers who don't like it can't seem to stop despairing. I suggest if they want to change the conversation, they should write about all of the other aesthetic phenomena that they imply are prevalent, claim to prefer, but fail to articulate--that is, what they see going on in artists' studios and how it reflects contemporary culture.

[Image at top:  Rosa Bonheur, Arab and a Dead Horse, 1852, oil on canvas, 20x 34 cm, National Museums Liverpool.]

February 18, 2014

The Casualist tendency

This essay, which builds upon an essay about contemporary abstract painting that I wrote for The Brooklyn Rail in 2011, was just published in the January/February 2014 issue of Christie's Magazine.


A few years ago, having operated safely within traditional painting strictures for decades, I found myself embracing a paradoxically purposeful inattention to detail, nuance and craft in my work. Noticing that many other painters were moving in this direction and, after extended discussion on my blog, Two Coats of Paint, I wrote about it in a 2011 Brooklyn Rail article, labelling this trend The New Casualism. The work I had in mind related conceptually to wabi sabi, the Japanese aesthetic of imperfection and impermanence, featuring abrupt shifts, cross-currents and a deliberate lack of formal cohesion that constructively agitates the viewer, challenging one to look harder if a painting seems poorly constructed or amateurish.

There is more to the studied, passive-aggressive irresoluteness of these canvases – which often leave large sections unpainted – than meets the eye. They reflect a concern with imperfection, extending beyond traditional Bauhaus principles of good design to the unfinished, the off-kilter, the overtly offhand, the not-quite-right. And, to my mind, they refreshingly embrace almost anything that seems to lend itself to visual intrigue – including formal artistic failure.

[Image at top: Molly Zuckerman-Hartung]

Dustin Hodges: Rational bluff

In his first solo show, at Miguel Abreu, 2012 Bard MFA grad Dustin Hodges presents a series of compelling architectural drawings, some gestural paintings of houseplants, an architectural model made of Styrofoam, and a kiosk constructed from stretched canvases. At the entrance of the gallery, a large piece (I hesitate to call it a painting), made of stretched linen, hangs to the left. Looking closely, I began to see that the linen isn't blank; in fact, a faint image of what appears to be a partial axonometric projection grid is lightly drawn in pencil across the surface. Unlike the linear perspective grid more commonly used by artists, the lines in such projections don't converge at the horizon, so images created with them may seem less realistic on the page, but they are more precise in terms of scale and measurement. Although Hodges titles the piece Axonometric Projection, the name isn't accurate--for axonometric projections, the grid would be at a 45-degree angle. The architectural reference, promising a rational outcome, is a bluff--don't fall for it.

[Image above: Dustin Hodges, Axonometric Projection, 2013, graphite on linen, 67 x 67 inches]

February 15, 2014

Architecture as muse at Union College

If readers are up near Union College in Schenectady, NY, please check out "blueprint," a three person exhibition in The Atrium Gallery curated by Brece Honeycutt, artist and writer of the terrific blog on a colonial farm. In her blog, Honeycutt chronicles life on her colonial-era farm in western Massachusetts, researching and imagining what life was like for the women who lived there before she bought the property. Naturally, when Honeycutt discovered The Glass Room, a 2009 novel by Simon Mawer that tells the compelling and tragic tale of a Modern house built in Czechoslovakia before World War II, she was drawn to the story, and she decided to use it as the basis for this exhibition. Featuring work by Peter Dudek, Victoria Palermo, and me, the show considers architecture as a muse.

Honeycutt writes in her curatorial statement that
throughout Mawer’s book, the concepts, structures and images from the three artists' works are made manifest. It is almost as if Mawer had the vibrant planes of Palermo's structures, or layered architectural shapes of Butler’s canvases, or the three-dimensional constructivist landscapes by Dudek in his mind’s eye as he wrote. Mawer: “Steel will be as translucent as water. Light will be as solid as walls and walls as transparent as air. I conceive of a house that will be unlike any other, living space that changes functions as the inhabitants wish, a house that merges seamlessly into the garden outside, a place that is at once of nature and quite aside from nature."
 Please join us this coming Thursday, February 20, at 3:30  when we'll be having a gallery talk and reception.

My wall of paintings references urban architecture, HVAC units, security gates, exhaust vents and other rooftop structures.

Peter Dudek built a Modernist tabletop village with corrugated cardboard and plywood. Lookout: One of Dudek's signature plaster clouds hangs overhead.

Installation view: Palermo's meticulously-built plexi-and-wood objects in foreground, my wall of paintings in the background.

One of Victoria Palermo's plexi-and-wood structures. This one appears to be tumbling off its supports.

"blueprint," curated by Brece Honeycutt. The Atrium Gallery, Union College, Schenectady, NY. Through February 27, 2014. 

Related posts: 

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QUOTE: Hudson on looking at art

“The first thing is to be quiet. I drop my agenda or expectations, and listen. Then I soften my gaze. The eyes are aggressive, and once you realize they are out there hunting, you can learn to tune them down, and let what is out there come to you. The body knows things way before the brain does…Art is primarily about the development of consciousness, not the development of an object. The object is just a catalyst.”

Hudson, director of Feature, Inc. for nearly thirty years, died unexpectedly last week at 63. A "galler-artist," Hudson was widely considered an artists' dealer, someone who cared more about contributing to the conversation than about presenting moveable product. We'll miss him.

Image at top: Hudson with Tom Friedman's sculpture, taken by Feature artist Judy Linn.


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February 14, 2014

Vancouver Report: Lyse Lemieux at Republic Gallery

 Guest Contributor Dion Kliner (Vancouver, BC)  /  John Singer Sargent enigmatically said, "A portrait is a painting with a little something wrong about the mouth." Was he simply making a neutral observation, or was he talking about their relative value as art? Was it that a portrait is a slightly degraded form of art from a painting; or that a portrait is the more accurate picture of reality, and a painting a corrected, hence idealized, abstracted version? In any case, he identified how minute the distinction could be between representation and abstraction. On a continuum between the two, Sargent would be at the representative end. Lyse Lemieux plays in that small space where abstraction, process, and materiality lean into representation. Helped along by suggestive titles like Red with Open Mouth, and Red and Yellow Figure with Orange Fabric, what look at first like large abstract shapes slowly resolve into loose figuration.

[Image: Work in Lyse Lemieux's studio]

February 13, 2014

Young painters in the secondary market: "Chewed up and spit out"

Last week Ed Winkleman brought to my attention an article by Bloomberg arts reporter Katya Kazakina who suggested that a new breed of speculator collector is out there, buying and flipping work, primarily by male artists under the age of 35. [Image:  Eddie Peake, Crushingly Hopeless. 2013; lacquered spray paint on polished stainless steel; 39 3/8 x 55 1/8 x 1 15/16 inches. Courtesy White Cube.]

Here are some choice quotes from Kazakina's depressing article, which outlines how speculators corner the market on an artist's work, create buzz to manipulate the market, sell the artist's work at a huge profit, and then move on to a new mark.

Halvorson and Hawkins: Two kinds of cool

One kind of cool is no-nonsense virtuoso paint-handling that calmly vivifies the world as it slowly turns, of the kind on display in Josephine Halvorson’s exhibition “Facings” at Sikkema Jenkins. At Zach Feuer, Stuart Hawkins thinks more broadly, coolly considering the artificial interface that consumer culture has imposed between us and the simpler life.

[Image at top: Josephine Halvorson, Woodshed (Door), 2013, oil on canvas, 70 x 35 inches]

EMAIL: Judith Braun's fingertips propel Kelly Clark to snowboarding bronze

Judith Braun writes this morning:

OK, so all I did was design the snowboard that KELLY CLARK won her OLYMPIC BRONZE on!
...but I am bursting with pride anyway.

So I'm sharing this widely with friends and family because to my surprise (what-do-I-know) many people either love to snowboard, used to snowboard, dream of snowboarding, or know someone who does.

The truth is, I said "no" when Burton first asked me to design because I thought it was too commercial. (again, w-d-i-k)

I wasn't thinking about the amazing athletes that might choose my board...for an Olympic run no less!

Thank you all for listening.

xo Judith

 That's Judith's artwork on the snowboard at right.


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February 8, 2014

Last chance: Ingrid Calame's elegy to old America

In an increasingly digital and virtual time, Ingrid Calame’s utilization of a centuries-old technique to celebrate tar, pavement, rubber, steel, and high-octane gasoline is like a breath of exquisitely polluted air.

Introduced by vividly colored paintings of tarred-over pavement cracks, the centerpiece of Ingrid Calame’s inventive and absorbing show “Tracks” at James Cohan Gallery is a four-wall multicolored wrap-around drawing of tire tracks from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the legendary “Brickyard” where the Indy 500 is run every Memorial Day (installation image above). Employing the “pounce” technique of pushing pigment through perforated templates – which dates back to the Renaissance – she layers one skid pattern atop another. Her assiduous focus on process, she suggests, replicates the physical world not just as we see it but as we experience and interact with it. And indeed, zoning in on the spontaneous irregularities that arise when the rubber meets the road, one gets a tactile feel for both the pavement in situ and the artist’s fascination with it.

February 5, 2014

Smart Painting in New Haven

The ten artists in "Smart Painting," an upcoming exhibition at New Haven's Artspace Gallery, are an inquisitive group, asking  a range of questions, which, at their most basic level, include: What should a painting look like? How should I paint it? What should I paint it on? Beginning with simple questions like these, each of the artists believes (more than most painters) that how they paint is as important as the image they paint.

[Image at top: Claire Grill, Fan, 2013, oil on linen, 10 x 11 inches. Courtesy of Soloway.]

Sue Williams’s Subterfuge

 Without the prompting of her 303 Gallery show’s title – “WTC, WWIII, Couch Size” – few viewers would apprehend Sue Williams’s richly evocative new color field paintings as what they are: crazed essays on life in the time of 9/11, the signature disaster of the present epoch. The central component of these busy, lively pieces is the discordance between the prepossessing gaiety of their bright colors and jangled line, on one hand, and the more submerged gruesomeness of the body parts and distressed buildings actually depicted, on the other. But in addition to hearts and livers, there are of course penises and vaginas. Whatever cloud of civilizational angst hovers over us, she suggests, our lives as sentient, indulgent beings can’t help but go on.

[Image at top: Sue Williams, The Serpent, 2013, oil and acrylic on canvas, 54 x 64 inches. Courtesy 303 Gallery]

February 1, 2014

Portfolio: David Ostrowski (It's about something. It's about nothing.)

For "Yes or Let's Say No," David Ostrowski's recent solo show at Simon Lee in London, curator Elena Brugnano wrote the following statement in which she suggests that a lack of options can provide opportunities.
David Ostrowski’s paintings are the results of a total analysis of the very nature of painting. He consistently strives to undermine composition, style and “typical gestures," experiments with speed and imperfection. Errors are integrated into the process of pictorial composition, successful sections are painted over. Errors and coincidences are played off against each other in order to achieve unforeseen beauty. Ostrowski deletes, overwrites, layers, makes decisions. “I imagine going into the studio. A neon sign hangs on the wall, flashing the word ‘surprise’. When I ask myself, who painted my own works, I know it’s a good painting.” In the process of painting, consideration is constantly being given to which elements, even the smallest markings, could be removed or added. Ostrowski works with oil and lacquer; large areas of white dominate. Color is employed sparingly with the help of gestures that appear as unmotivated as possible. Ostrowski’s limited color palette is not something he actually prefers, but he does indeed approach this new, reduced color palette as the result of his intense analysis of this preference. Every now and then he wears blue pants. His working materials are things he finds in his studio: paper, strips of wood, newspaper, dirt. Having almost no options is considered an opportunity; even the lack of studio space is processed in the work. “Fuck painting a lot.” The music in the studio is the only emotion that gets captured on the canvas. Ostrowski’s large formats are mirrors of his own self: they depict the vast emptiness, the apparent lack of motivation, sometimes aggression, but especially beauty. What is presented to us as a result is permanent reflection. It’s about something. It’s about nothing.
Critics may consider Ostrowski's work derivative, or perhaps enervated and empty, but Ostrowski (b. 1981, Cologne, Germany), who claims to sit around and listen to music all day, has turned emptiness and lack of motivation into his subject matter. At this point in time, death-of-painting tropes (i.e. few marks, little brushwork, limp spray paint, lots of empty canvas, and so forth) like the ones Ostrowski employs in this series, long past experimental, aren't derivative per se, but, rather, they are part of an established painterly language, readymade and rich with metaphor. Ostrowski is referencing the idea of experimental painting rather than attempting to be experimental.

For Ostrowski, the paintings aren't about strategy, they are about life. "The whole world and life itself is a big mistake," Ostrowski said in a recent interview."But, of course, the world also has its beautiful parts and, sometimes, life can be pretty fun--sometimes!"

Image at top: David Ostrowski, F (H), 2013; acrylic, lacquer, paper on canvas, wood; 94 7/8 x 75 1/4 inches.

 David Ostrowski, F (Love), 2013; acrylic, lacquer, paper and cardboard on canvas, wood94 7/8 x 75 1/4 inches.

David Ostrowski, F (Gee Vaucher), 2013; acrylic and lacquer on canvas, wood94 7/8 x 75 1/4 inches.

 David Ostrowski, F (Don’t Honk), 2013; lacquer on canvas, wood; 94 7/8 x 75 1/4 inches.

 David Ostrowski, F (dann lieber nein), 2013, acrylic, lacquer and paper on canvas, wood; 94 7/8 x 75 1/4 inches.

David Ostrowski, F (Lieber Nackt als Gef├╝hlsleben zeigen), 2013; acrylic, paper and cardboard on burlap, wood; 94 7/8 x 75 1/4 inches.

 David Ostrowski, F (Yes or let's say no), 2013; paper and cardboard on burlap, wood; 94 7/8 x 75 1/4 inches.

David Ostrowski, F (Garth Brooks), 2013, acrylic and lacquer on canvas, wood; 94 7/8 x 75 1/4 inches.

David Ostrowski, F (Jet Grill), 2013, acrylic, lacquer, spray-paint on canvas, wood; 94 7/8 x 75 1/4 inches.

David Ostrowski, F (Just do it), 2013, acrylic and lacquer on canvas, wood, 94 7/8 x 75 1/4 inches.

David Ostrowski, F (Musik ist Scheisse), 2013; acrylic, and lacquer on canvas, wood; 94 7/8 x 75 1/4 inches.

David Ostrowski, F (Musik ist Scheisse), 2013; acrylic and lacquer on canvas, wood
94 7/8 x 75 1/4 inches.

David Ostrowski, F (phone call), 2013; acrylic and lacquer on canvas, wood; 94 7/8 x 75 1/4 inches.

David Ostrowski, F (A thing is a thing in a whole which it’s not), 2013; acrylic and lacquer on canvas94 1/2 x 74 3/4 inches.

David Ostrowski, F (Deutsche), 2013; acrylic, tape and paper on canvas, wood; 94 7/8 x 75 1/4 inches.

 I'm looking forward to checking out Ostrowski's paintings in March at "Even the most beautiful woman ends at her feet," his upcoming NYC solo at Oko Gallery.
2014 solo shows:
"Emotional Paintings," Peres Projects, Berlin, DE
"Das Goldene Scheiss," Almine Rech, Paris, FR
"Even the most beautiful woman ends at her feet," Oko Gallery, New York, US

"David Ostrowski: Yes or Let's Say No," Simon Lee, London. Through January 31, 2014.


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