Laura Owens: So much fun

Laura Owens, Untitled, 2009, acrylic, oil, and charcoal on linen, 20 x 18 inches

Contributed by Sharon Butler / Laura Owens’s mid-career survey at the Whitney Museum features more than 60 paintings, many large-scale and hung salon-style, from the mid-1990s until today. The work is all over the map, but Owens’s primary interest lies in fusing craft, doodling, sentimental greeting card and children’s book illustration, narrative, pop culture, and digital prints into a big happy mess. In the press release, the curator notes that the Whitney has “a longstanding commitment to Owens, who has been featured in two Biennials, and is significantly represented in the Museum’s collection.” That may be so, but Owens’s madcap approach strikes me as out of touch for these brooding times — the political situation is simply too mortifying for me to appreciate so much fun. Other artists tell me they’re glad to see such a lively show because it takes their minds off the terrifying juggernaut known as the Republican Party. Don’t miss the essay her mother wrote for the catalogue/artist’s book that was produced in conjunction with the exhibition. It’s priceless.

Laura Owens, detail of Untitled, 2014, ink, silkscreen ink, vinyl paint, acrylic, oil, pastel, paper, wood, solvent transfers, stickers, handmade paper, thread, board, and glue on linen and polyester, 138 1/8 x 106 ½ x 2 5/8 inches

A long-time  Owens fan, Roberta Smith says:

Ms. Owens loves painting but she approaches it with a rare combination of sincerity and irony. Distinguished by a sly, comedic beauty, her work has a playful, knowing, almost-Rococo lightness of being in which pleasure, humor, intelligence and a seductive sense of usually high color mingle freely. Her polymorphous way with motifs and materials recalls the German maverick Sigmar Polke; her intense forward propulsion is not unlike Frank Stella’s.

Laura Owens, Untitled, 1995, acrylic, oil, enamel, ink, and felt-tip pen on canvas, 72 ¼ x 84 ¼ inches

Laura Owens, Untitled, 2015, acrylic, oil, vinyl paint, and silkscreen ink on linen, 108 x 84 inches

Laura Owens, Untitled, 2013, acrylic, oil, and resin on linen, 137 1/2 x 120 inches
Laura Owens, Untitled, 2012, acrylic, oil, vinyl paint, resin, pumice, and fabric on canvas, 108 x 84 inches
Laura Owens, detail of Untitled, 2012, acrylic, oil, vinyl paint, charcoal, yarn, and cord on hand-dyed linen, 33 panels, 35 1/2 x 33 1/4 inches
Laura Owens, detail of Untitled, 2012, acrylic, oil, vinyl paint, charcoal, yarn, and cord on hand-dyed linen, 33 panels, 35 1/2 x 33 1/4 inches
Laura Owens, detail of Untitled, 2012, acrylic, oil, vinyl paint, charcoal, yarn, and cord on hand-dyed linen, 33 panels, 35 1/2 x 33 1/4 inches
Laura Owens, Untitled, 2008, acrylic and oil on linen, 25 1/2 x 19 inches
Laura Owens, Untitled, 2006, acrylic and oil on linen, 29 1/4 x 21 1/4 inches
Laura Owens, Untitled, 2004, acrylic and oil on linen, 66 x 66 inches
Laura Owens, Untitled, 2000, acrylic, oil, and graphite on canvas, 72 x 66 1/2 inches
Laura Owens, Untitled, 1998, acrylic on canvas, 66 x 72 inches
Laura Owens, Untitled, 1997, oil, acrylic, and airbrushed oil on canvas, 96 × 120 inches
Laura Owens, Untitled, 1997, acrylic and oil on canvas, 78 x 84 inches

Laura Owens,” organized by Scott Rothkopf and Jessica Man, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. Through February 4, 2018.

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The strategic now
Part II: Los Angeles Report

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2 thoughts on “Laura Owens: So much fun”

    1. What may explain the hyperbole about Owens is that she comes out of the anti-modernist group of Provisional and Casualist painters that tried to deconstruct the Greenbergian modernist hegemony.It has a lot of admirers and Salle as a neo-expressionist sees himself as a forerunner having pursued the same anti-modernist road along with Schnabel who reinvented himself as a Provisional painter. I think what they forget is that on her way to stardom Owens started looking more like Stella and lost her casual wit. Clearly she wanted to move out of the pack of Provisionalist painters. I think this is why Roberta Smith makes a fool of herself praising an artist who barely resembles the artist she once admired.

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