Lost: INTO THE WOODS

Marco Del Re, 2015

Marco Del Re, 2015

The ambitious but uneven group show INTO THE WOODS starts with a quote from the Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel:

“Early tomorrow morning we will take the children out into the forest to where it is the thickest. There we will light a fire for them, and give each of them one more piece of bread, and then we will go to our work and leave them alone. They will not find the way home again, and we shall be rid of them.”

This quote could be read at least two ways: one that casts the artists as the children, of whom the gallerists would gladly be rid so they can get on with their work and be left alone, and another in which the patrons are the children, coerced by the gallerists into a magical forest crafted by elfin artists, unable to find their way back home. In all art, there’s this tension between the gallerists, the artists and the patrons as they struggle to find a safe place together without one wanting to be rid of the others.

INTO THE WOODS features works by nine contemporary artists: Marco Del Re, Luc Doerflinger, Joanne Easton, Cécile Granier de Cassagnac, Velia de Iuliis, Laine Justice, Brett McCormack, Kal Spelletich and Justin Teisl – some of whom should have been excluded, which underlined the uneven nature of the show. The best works, straight from the pages of the Brothers Grimm, draw inspiration from the same fairytales and folk legends that inspired the Sondheim musical by the same title, in which there is great tension around who is good and who is doing the right thing. That same tension fills the gallery, where, as the press release states: “The international artists in this group exhibition explore dreamlike and expressive themes creating haunting landscapes, strange environments, mysterious people and creatures that are at once magical, ominous and compelling.”

Actually, that great quote is really only about the show’s best work, created by Marco Del Re and Cecile Granier de Cassagnac. The other artists do this to a much lesser degree, ending up in witch’s sausage grinder instead of being haunting, mysterious, or magical in any way. In a different group show with a different concept, I know that these artists would all be highlights in their own right, but not here. This is most obvious for Joanne Easton’s and Brett McCormack’s great work, shoved into their respective back corners. Their work would fit nicely in a show about earth art or paper crafts, but here they are overshadowed in both concept and location by the two foreign illustrative magicians.

New York based artist Brett McCormack’s intricate black and white paper sculptures of, supposedly, the predatory systems of the forest are clearly out of place. Velia de Iuliis’ hyperrealistic paintings depict insects and snakes. While stumbling technically, especially when there is so much amazing scientific illustration crossing over into the arts, her pieces are nonetheless very intriguing.

It really is the French artist Cécile Granier de Cassagnac’s – whose work decorates a vast expanse of gallery wall as well as the cover of the show card – Forêt, in watercolor on 90 by 118-inch paper, that is the star of the show. According to the press release, de Cassagnac’s “haunting representations of animalistic forms in gouache and watercolor revisit childhood nightmares, suggesting a forest filled with characters from Brothers Grimm tales.” I couldn’t agree more, which means that I agree as much as I can possibly agree.

Many artists try to recreate these creatures from childhood nightmares – so many that a whole art genre could be created just to accommodate them – but de Cassagnac’s watercolors are remarkable in that they don’t lose their artistic compulsions. They are still great works of art, works that come from deep within the proverbial forest, revealing something about what great artists do when they try to explain something about themselves and how they see the world, how they see themselves. They are truly magical pieces.

Cécile Granier de Cassagnac, 2015

Cécile Granier de Cassagnac, 2015

Cécile Granier de Cassagnac, 2015

Cécile Granier de Cassagnac, 2015

The other standout is Marco Del Re, whose wonderful primitive mixed-media paintings recall much of the greatest work of the early 20th century – especially Matisse, and perhaps Klee. Del Re masterfully mixes both his techniques and his mythology, mashing together Greek and Biblical tales into his linocuts, each of which is later individually painted by hand. The resulting pieces are museum postcard-ready – both iconic and mysterious, nymphic and satyric. There is something nostalgic, in our modern digital age, about those types of images that require the viewer to look at them on a wall, in person. It’s refreshing to see Del Re create such images with an unabashed love for that very primitive interaction just between a viewer and some marks on the wall.

Laine Justice’s far-flung paper works were both obsessively compelling and disappointing at the same time, resulting in a big hot mess, which many young artists seem to aspire towards. His “magical composite creatures,” half cute illustration and half messy impressionism, are painted on paper scrolls to create a chaotic, feverish dream that ignores any and all of the woods. Justice’s work could be the focal point of a different group show, but here it’s a poorly considered inclusion.

Laine Justice, 2015

Laine Justice, 2015

Joanne Easton is in the wrong show too. Technically, her work does deal with forests – or twigs and branches, more accurately. She heads out on winter days, wraps dark branches in brightly colored tape, and photographs them. It’s Land Art 101, a decent introductory class project at a small liberal arts college upstate, a worthy participant in a local land art show, but it certainly doesn’t succeed at “exploring the boundaries between the quotidian and the mystical in reference to the longevity (or lack thereof) of art itself,” as the show’s announcement, clearly reaching to find a way to justify her inclusion, describes. Still, wrapping and photography is interesting. Just not here.

Justin Teisl’s epoxy and acrylic paintings felt borderline kitsch, something that could be mass produced as art, each a variation on the next but all ultimately made in China by a guy who just shuffles illustrations into his glue machine, and while the technique is interesting, the art isn’t. Also scattered throughout the space are the one-trick-pony tree machines of Kal Spelletich. His whirring structures are fun to look at and fun to think about in the moment, but then they vanish from one’s thoughts the minute they are out of sight.

Lastly, there’s Luc Doerflinger’s work. It’s clearly great work, and it fits perfectly into the theme of the show, and the whole front wall of the gallery is his, but I honestly didn’t like it. I didn’t like the framing, I didn’t like the mass-hanging, I didn’t like the light bouncing on the glass covering the images, and I didn’t like the paper work’s uneven quality. I didn’t even like the low humming dread of his pieces, especially with all the bad choices of paper, framing choice, and glass that were made. I’m not even sure that watercolor is Doerflinger’s best medium to begin with. I think some excellent dry brush technique on canvas would have been much more successful. I also think he should refrain from cutting his images while framing, and then piling them all together on the wall to make them seem more important. Mr. Doerflinger just needs to do the one image right, from start to finish, each choice without compromise, his amazingly low-energy brush strokes leading the way.

All in all, INTO THE WOODS is a great show. It really is. But it’s not perfect. It has some well-deserved highs, and some misplaced lows, but it brims with ambition, and Jules Maeght Gallery has reached far and wide to find the most interesting artists it could, and since I’m probably wrong about what exactly the highs are and what exactly the lows are (though I think people will unanimously agree that it’s uneven), I think it’s a must-see show for people to go and argue about, and in the end that’s one of the great things about great shows: they have the energy to rile people up, as this show certainly does.

Jules Maeght Gallery, 149 Gough Street @ Oak, San Francisco, julesmaeghtgallery.com

October 15, 2015 – January 30, 2016

Written by POVarts West Coast Editor Chuck Frank

My Rendezvous With Greg Miller

OK (2015)

As galleries go, William Turner Gallery is a good gallery. It represents the works of established artists, such as Ed Moses, Jay Mark Johnson, Larry Poons, and Roland Reiss. It’s spacious – about 5000 square feet – located in the heart of Bergamot Station in Santa Monica.  I’ve visited many times and written about some of their shows.

The other day, I had a chance to see Greg Miller’s “J Street” at the gallery. In the exhibition I encountered large, overcrowded canvases with depressing color combinations, paint drips extending lethargically downward, I felt as if I was in a gallery of wallpaper peeling off the wall.  Some pieces were resin-coated and others were left untreated, which contributed to an overall rawness. The naked women and old Playboy clippings didn’t make sense to me.

J Street (2015)

J Street (2015)

 So there I was standing in front of a wall thinking, is this it? I came here to see art and end up looking at pages of sexy girls, an old cassette tape, a piece of paper from the Château Marmont, a two-dollar bill, and a business card? Where is the technique and magic that I expect art to have?

Feeling let down by the art world as a whole, I left William Turner Gallery in dismay.

However, on my way out, I noticed a press release on the wall, hung like a work of art in itself. It contained an elegantly written quote about Miller by art critic Peter Frank:

A Girl (2015)

A Girl (2015)

Greg Miller brings the pictorial poise of Pop to the eloquent fury of street art, effecting a marriage – or at least a torrid affair – between two hot items. One item is hot today, the other has been hot for half century, but in Miller’s hands there is no generation gap, only a spiritual union – one that generates a sky, or at least a wall full of sparks.                                (-Peter Frank)

So I thought, okay, maybe I missed something here. And I told myself, “Go home and do your work.”

And so I started with my research and was surprised to discover how little I’d understood Miller’s art and how much I’d missed what he was trying to say. It turns out Miller’s work is inspired by the imagery of pop-culture that manifested itself in people’s consciousness during the 50s and 60s, the Golden Age of American consumerism, a time when television and advertising were flourishing.

I found myself with a new appreciation for why the Frederick R. Weisman and Charles Saatchi Foundation had featured Miller’s work, and an understanding of art critics Peter Frank and Donald Kuspit’s praise for it as great post-pop art.

I had to admit to myself that I didn’t understand Miller’s visual language. But I wasn’t born in America, nor was I born into those golden days of consumerist culture. I didn’t grow up with American billboards or American television; I didn’t grow up with Look Magazine, and while I’m familiar with the works of great American pop artists like Lichtenstein, Warhol, Johns and Rauschenberg, my knowledge about the genre is admittedly limited.

Perhaps I would be able to understand Miller’s work better if I had seen more imagery that had been directly appropriated from this period in American history, imagery delivered via mass media that shaped the American people. To me, this would have been scenes from I Love Lucy or Doris Day films, photographs of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King’s assassinations, soldiers crawling on the ground during the Vietnam War, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philippe’s first visit to the United States, Marilyn Monroe’s last interview with LIFE magazine, or the image of the first person landing on the moon

American 1 (2015)

American 1 (2015)

Good Look (2015)

Good Look (2015)

So I went back to look at Greg Miller’s work again, and this time, understanding his place in pop-art history, I liked his work better.  The light from outside made the paintings look lighter. Gradually, Miller’s composition made more sense to me. The overcrowded feeling of his paintings followed his system of logic rather than limiting it. Their darkness subverted the promises of the Golden Age. In looking a second time, I discovered things I hadn’t seen there before. And suddenly an image of Kennedy appeared, buried underneath a stack of postings – and then followed the Beverly Boulevard sign bearing the number 8700. A secret message? Hidden Los Angeles treasure? I had to look up the address to see whose it was. And voila… it’s L.A.’s Cedar Sinai hospital!, one of the largest non-profit hospitals in the western United States. And it was then that I realized that if I kept looking and reading the paintings on the wall, I’d keep finding hidden jewels. 

Unfortunately, in my experience, the most powerful works I have seen throughout my life have required the shortest explanation, not the multiple layers that I had to unearth to understand Mr. Miller’s work.  Still, this is a dense and undeniably important show and you should absolutely go see it at the William Turner Gallery and decide for yourself.   

Greg Miller “J Street” on view October 3 – November 14, 2015 at the William Turner Gallery.

William Turner Gallery, Bergamot Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Avenue Suite E-1, Santa Monica, CA 90404

Written by POVarts contributing writer: Simone Kussatz

Photography Credits: Simone Kussatz

I hate Eric White’s Art, by that I mean I love Eric White’s Art

Installation view of Eric White's "New Works" at the George Sorokko Gallery

Installation view of Eric White’s “New Works” at the Serge Sorokko Gallery

What living and dating in Hollywood has done to Eric White’s Art.

I think that there’s something about living in Los Angeles, as I once have, that breaks people. It hollows them out, and fills them with images that are not their own. I used to believe that everyone in LA was crazy, because everyone else was famous, and it was impossible to be sane when you walked out of your front door only to see your neighbors face giant and 30 feet up in the sky, overlooking your matchbox houses, where everyone was slowly dying instead, the palm trees, all planted for the 1932 Olympics, swaying overhead.

One-Seater Oil on canvas
 26" x 78"
, 2015

One-Seater, Oil on canvas
 26″ x 78″
, 2015

In his latest show, “New Works” Serge Sorokko Gallery, you can see Eric struggle with the crazy of his adopted hometown of LA – with painting made from before and after moving to Lalaland. Originally from Ann Arbor, a utopian sort of small college town, aside from the artist declared bad weather, through RISD, a series of romantic misadventures in San Francisco, because if not for anything, what else is San Francisco good for, current tech bubble aside, and finally down, as in south, to his current home in LA, where after selling one of his early pieces to LA royalty, he’s now become a court artist of sorts, lover as well.

Rom Com Oil on canvas, 
97" x 42"
2013.

Rom Com, Oil on canvas, 
97″ x 42″
2013.

Now what, you might ask, does this have to do with the art on the wall? Well I’m trying to posit two things to explain why his art, so bad as it is, is so good, so please bear with me. First, that LA is Crazy, and two, that Eric White has become a court artist who both documents and questions the royalty that has overwhelmed all of his senses, not unlike the great Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar.

And I believe that his ‘New Works’ show stands as a testament to all that.

“New Works’ is nothing if not Hollywood nostalgia, though he admits that it is covered in his own paranoia about what it means, and what it is trying to say, and so his work, all meticulously, and beautiful painted, gently touches upon the dreams that movie land promises, only to know that just underneath those promises is something much more sinister, something much more dangerous – a belief that the world is something that it is not. A belief in truth and justice, and what might be called the American Way, none of which is actually real.

No Neutral Thoughts Oil on canvas
 24 x 24" 2008

No Neutral Thoughts, Oil on canvas
 24 x 24″ 2008

And so Mr. White paints half naked women, lounging in their excruciating sexuality, their faces blue with some poisoning, as the giant head of Marlon Brando, or the like, hovers behind them.

Or Mr. White shows us the beautiful American housewife, as captured by the director of photography, his lens cropped and focused on her nipples pushing through her white blouse.

There’s something desperate in the eyes of the woman behind the wheel of her giant car, the words ‘No Other Dream’ floating by in another picture, but on the same road as hers. Because, as someone who has lived in Los Angeles, whether there as an actor, or a writer, or a chef, or even as a celebrity character dancing for tips on Hollywood Blvd, there is no other dream, for years and years.

Down In Front: Dead Reckoning Oil on canvas 
36 x 60", 2014.

Down In Front: Dead Reckoning, Oil on canvas 
36 x 60″, 2014.

Even Donald Sutherland knows that the city is full of Body Snatchers, their invasion successful, though surprising to him, not communist in any way, but driven entirely by their lust of money and sex as an offering to their power. ‘Hey kid, it’s not a big deal, this is how the city works, sex is just like a handshake here, now bend over and let me introduce myself.’

Untitled Oil on canvas 
24 x 24", 2006.

Untitled, Oil on canvas 
24 x 24″, 2006.

Nowhere in Mr. White’s ‘New Works’ are things as they appear.

As he write:

“Because I promised”

“After what you did last night the sooner …”

“Infant Therapy.”

In the final assessment, Hollywood idolatry is no different from the multi-faced, multi-eyed Ganesh, long-trunked, long-dicked, with a perfectly toned yoga body, baby Chairman in one hand, and plastic blue elephant toy in another. Whether it’s the latest tie-in toys, or the pro-USA propaganda of the recently released ‘The Martian’, Hollywood both master and slave to both.

In that way, Eric White’s work is brilliant, gorgeous, and technically stunning, as it both revels and reveals in the City of Lights that currently has its sweet pale fingers wrapped around his arm, from one red carpet to another, as one of the lucky, one of the favored, as he says himself, there is ‘No Other Dream’.

Ganesha

Our Beloved Ganesha by Eric White

And having rejected this idea myself, through struggling daily to keep it at bay, in a world saturated with winners taking all, I hate what his work has to say, and I hate that he’s spending his time looking into this. In a perfect world, Eric White would be painting his amazing paintings about something else, and not about Los Angeles, not about movies, and not about their special kind of craziness. Though I can’t say that I know what that other thing would be. But I do know that Mr. White has to resist the siren call of temptation, and try to find it, the world deserves a better White.

Eric White “New Works” on view September 18 – October 18, 2015 at the Serge Sorokko Gallery.

Serge Sorokko Gallery 55 Geary St., San Fransisco.  415.421.7770

Written by POVarts West Coast Editor: Chuck Frank

Mark Benson Answers One Of Life’s Eternal Questions in Solo Show “How was your weekend?”

Mark Benson. 2015. Fan, beach ball.

“I worked the whole weekend. Again.” Mark Benson. 2015. Fan, beach ball.

Taking cues from the 9-5 (or is it 8-6 or longer?) sleep/shower/shave/work/weekend/repeat life, Mark Benson’s solo show, “How was your weekend?” at San Francisco’s Ever Gold Gallery starts with the most common of conversations held in jobs the world over, each and every Monday morning, shining a light on the mundane and repetitive in contemporary work culture.

“So? How was your weekend?”

Benson takes almost-found objects and obsessively recreates them through sculptures and paintings, elevating the sacred weekend activities, placing them on the pedestal of art within the holy walls of the gallery – a show of respect and honor for those times of magic and wonder that people share each and every Monday morning together.

“My weekend? My weekend was awesome. How was your weekend?”

Stuck in time and removed of the backyard, or the beaches, according to the gallery release, “a pall hangs over these moments alluding to them as dead and gone forever, or for at least another business week.” 

“I Went Camping For the First Time and Last Time”, Mark Benson. 2015. Cast plaster soap.

“I Went Camping For the First Time and Last Time”, Mark Benson. 2015. Cast plaster soap.

“I had the flu.” Mark Benson. 2015. Wet Newspaper.

“Not Good.” Mark Benson. 2015. Cast Plaster, tufstone, pigment, Imodium AD.

“We Did Absolutely Nothing.” Mark Benson. 2015. Printed jeans lounge pants, Vornado fans.

“We Did Absolutely Nothing.” Mark Benson. 2015. Printed jeans lounge pants, Vornado fans.

Much like a poor man’s Damien Hirst, Mark Benson’s work uses transformed, reinterpreted everyday objects to bring to life a variety of contemporary social issues and emotions, from anxiety around productivity to the fear of failure.

“My weekend? We went to the beach. It was awesome”

The question is, does Mr. Benson succeed? In a poor man’s way, yes.  Not only does a pall hang over the work, its weekend participants dead and gone, but a mundane repetitiveness hums through the space, from the flapping sweatpant jeans to the perpetually circling beach ball. The show becomes a museum to weekends past, from an ancient time when weekends were a thing.  See the beach ball – it goes round and round. Watch the fat pants – they go flap, flap, flap. Everything almost celebrates its own boringness. Even Mr. Benson, who was present, seemed bored by the work, of the gallery, of the visitors, and most of all of that damned question, asked every damn Monday:

“How was your weekend?”

How was his weekend? His weekend was terrible – he fought with his girl, her cat scratched his face, no one bought his art, his friend forgot to include him when they decided to go to the Beauty Bar, on and on and on. How was his weekend? His weekend was shit.

“It Was Great. I Got in Some Good Studio Time 1.” Mark Benson. 2015. Oil on canvas. 13×16 in.

“It Was Great. I Got in Some Good Studio Time 1.” Mark Benson. 2015. Oil on canvas. 13×16 in.

“It Was Great. I Got in Some Good Studio Time 2” Mark Benson, 2015. Oil on canvas.

“It Was Great. I Got in Some Good Studio Time 2” Mark Benson, 2015. Oil on canvas.

But is any of that in the art? Is Mark Benson in the art? Is there heart in the art? No. It’s all too cynical. There is too much about other people and their stuff, and their stories – those dead vanished people and their awesome weekends.

Those magical moments lost.

Does that mean it’s bad art? No.

Art too can be lonely, mundane, boring, cynical and repetitive. Even good art can be. I guess we are just going to have to keep an eye on this Mark Benson to see how good his gets.

P.S. Give the guy some money to go a little bit bigger. Benson’s work might even find some swagger as a result.

Mark Benson received his MFA from California College of the Arts in 2011. He currently lives in Oakland, CA.

Ever Gold Gallery, 441 O’Farrell St., San Francisco. 415-796-3676. evergoldgallery.com

Written by POVarts West Coast Editor: Chuck Frank

Zoe Leonard’s “Analogue” Encompasses History Over Time through 412 Photos at the MoMA

I had high hopes for “Analogue”, Zoe Leonard’s 10-year plus project now on view at The Museum of Modern Art. All artists of my generation, including myself, are affected by and respond differently to this overwhelming datascape we have at our disposal. Leonard’s approach is archival though not nostalgic and without a directive moral. She begins her investigation, over ten years ago, in her quotidian surroundings and traces them to where they reach beyond her immediate environs. The data is presented in the form of photographs that record either a storefront that used to exist in her Lower East Side neighborhood or a market place, somewhere far away, where the goods from the former store have been relocated for sale. Leonard archives and collects data, which gathers critical distance and mass over the time. The work brings to mind Berndt and Hilla Becher’s work, both in its documentary form and its focus on the architecture of the place, and format, square photographs arranged in grids.

Zoe Leonard Install MoMA

Installation shot of Zoe Leonard “Analogue” exhibition at MoMA. Photo credit: Katherine Keltner.

The show, installed in MoMA’s atrium, is comprised of 412 photos, each square in format and held with clean L clips, arranged in various square or rectangular grids, like chapters, forming a non-regular but clean looking order. The differences in sizes of grids, rows and columns allows for fluidity and visual variation, while the uniform spacing between individual images maintains visual rigor. MoMA’s atrium is a space that has so much flux going on it can be hard for artworks to hold focus. The installation itself, the curatorial work of Roxana Marcoci and her photography department in collaboration with the artist, is beautiful; it is pared down but not too spare, and it makes a powerful impression. Both the installation and the work are strong, disciplined and serious, the installation in service to the work, demanding respect. My only complaint in viewing the pieces is that there is glare on some of the photos, making it hard to examine the works individually – too bad because the individual elements in the photos are a crucial layer of the work and the project’s attempt to follow the pieces globally.

Zoe Leonard Install 2 MoMA

Installation shot of Zoe Leonard “Analogue” exhibition at MoMA. Photo credit: Katherine Keltner.

The work itself begins by tracking a largely gone, fabric-based sales area of the Lower East Side, Leonard’s own neighborhood and path of daily routine. Having lived and worked in the East Village and Lower East Side for a long time, the photographs were of interest to me in part because I wanted to identify the former locations. But they hold interest beyond my own curiosity. They are straight-on, honest and plain images, documentary in form, owing to Walker Evans’ legacy among others, that allow the viewer to sample the data on view without bias of unusual camera angle or sentiment (aside from some nostalgia that cannot help but be perceived as with anything lost or bygone). The images of these storefronts and their consistency of view is exacting as they document no longer existing specimens from the Lower East Side.

30_shop_electro

Graham Electronics, 2006/2006

investment-pieces-february-2015-900x450

Shirtrack

The work continues past the storefronts to track the goods once sold inside the Lower East Side establishments and now part of a global storefront. While I appreciate the conceptual tracking of goods, the artist’s investigation, and her desire to trace our globally fragmented world in which goods are endlessly moved about, the work loses some of its rigor when it tries to take on the varying architectures of the myriad places where the goods have travelled to. I wish she had applied a colder, tighter and more architecturally focused frame to the marketplaces as she did to the storefronts. The images of the storefronts are consistently framed, giving equal value to each, and no preference of a deli over a fabric store for example. However, once Leonard follows the goods from these storefronts, the frame is, inevitably lost, as markets and shipping yards cannot necessarily be captured from equal distances, angles, lines of entry. As a result, the roughly second half of the show holds less power than the first half. I wish the artist could have maintained a similar meticulousness to the framing of the marketplaces, whether shooting individual stalls within a larger market or some other constraint that allowed these images to be more formally consistent. Much of the appeal of the storefronts is their laboratory-like examination. Once the documentation leaves the Lower East Side, so too does the feeling of examining specimens or data.

33_shirtrack-web-429x430

Shirtrack

Zoe Leonard Photos

TV Wheelbarrow, 2001/2006

Some of this may have to do with editing. Leonard’s photos number somewhere beyond 10,000. The task of editing this to 412 is immense – just the ability to layout the images to view at once – affects how the viewer interprets it. Still, there is a responsibility for the artist or the curator/exhibitor to deal with the plethora of visual data, especially in our contemporary visual culture of image saturation. The selection process and what is selected becomes a major part of the artwork. The conceptual strength of the project carries through, and the idea that Leonard followed her initial storefront photographs across the world as a means of tracking gentrification and globalization is valid and more than worthy of pause. But, I cannot help feeling that the work takes on a nostalgia or a potential bias that detracts from the message of global goods, once the persistent frame is lost.

Zoe Leonard: Analogue

On view at the Museum of Modern Art June 25–August 30, 2015

Written by Katherine Keltner, Contributing Writer to POVarts

Jacqueline Humphries: Painting the Analog/Digital Divide

Humphries POVarts

Jacqueline Humphries’ new large-scale paintings, recently on view at Greene Naftali’s new ground floor space, are an exploration of what we might call screen noise abstracted into paintings that I don’t want to stop looking at.

The press release explains the artist’s desire to recreate the “spatial and temporal logic of a world increasingly dominated by screens” and the paintings certainly communicate that. Their din, though, is not an unbearable over-saturation or constant movement that has the effect of numbing the eyes and mind. When I entered the gallery, I did not feel overwhelmed or put upon, the way I do when I sit down in a taxi and a screen starts making noise and movements in my direction. The paintings here provide a relatively quiet and pleasant greeting with a mix of graphic black and whites, blues, purples, greens, and pinks. A glow pervades the works and her signature silver underpainting reads otherworldly like the din of light of a computer screen in a darkened room.

JH Purple

:::, 2014, Oil on linen, 100×111 inches

As I looked more closely at the individual works, I got a strong sense of humming in the background or foreground of each work. In fact, there is no clear distinction between foreground and background in the works; rather they are generously and densely layered with swaths of paint and repeated patterns of ready-made marks, without a sequential need for which came first or which should be given visual primacy. The layers are distilled enough to identify the different images, colors and patterns, but none are really preferenced in the paintings. Some, like Ω, are more like static or white noise – layers melting into layers without any elements popping out, while 🙂 comes close to noise that cannot be distinguished – a highly abstract sea of marks.

JH

Ω, 2015, Oil on linen, 100×111 inches

:), 2015, Oil on linen, 114x127 inches

: ), 2015, Oil on linen, 114×127 inches

Others, like Xx, are more discreetly layered and swaths of paint can be delineated from printed patterns of emoticons. Overall, there is a non-preciousness to the images. Humphries does not cling to any particular emoticon as prized or special. Each is just a mark contributing to the overall visual song. They are all readily available and seemingly everywhere.

The result for me was a beautiful dreamlike state of uncertainty and suspension from grounding either in real space or alternative, digital space. Disjointing my sense of location though not aesthetics (I very much enjoyed looking at these), Humphries gives us a line to walk between the binary digital/analog divide. She communicates the dislocation between real, flat and digital spaces, and our near constant surround by one or all simultaneously, and rewards the viewers aesthetically in a way I have yet to see digital work do.

While these paintings represent a departure from her provisional painting style, the departure does not strike me as conceptually radical. In earlier works, the unfinished nature of the painting was conveyed primarily through brushwork. These paintings too can be read as unfinished or, at least, to be continued. While the painting, printing, and stenciling are on the whole decisive and confident, the message may well be that these are not complete in the same way that what passes in front of us on a screen is never really complete. The paintings become captured moments in the midst of non-stop action that is life.

JH Xs

Xx, 2014, Oil on linen, 100×111 inches

JACQUELINE HUMPHRIES MAY 15 – JUNE 20, 2015

GREENE NAFTALI
508 W 26th St, New York, NY 10001

Written by Katherine Keltner, Contributing Writer to POVarts

Jordan Doner Blows Up Luxury at Serge Sorokko Gallery

Jordan Doner photograph

Jordan Doner Revolution in Luxury

Jordan Doner’s debut solo show at Serge Sorokko Gallery called A Revolution in Luxury, is part of the artist’s ongoing series about fashion, consumption, and vague concepts of utopia. New York photographer Jordan Doner takes (supposedly) limited edition Louis Vuitton luxury handbags by Takashi Murakami and Richard Prince, fills them with explosives, and then documents the moment when the explosion occurs. The site-specific installation features large-scale color photographs, photo-etched metal plates, sculptures, walls of hung parachute material and video works.

According to Doner, the idea for the series came from researching mid-century utopianism. His research pointed him to Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point. Doner was captivated and inspired by the final scene of the film, where in a tremendous explosion, a home with designer goods and space-age food, are all blown apart in beautiful slow motion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ResQFDDsDAI

By borrowing from the film’s critique of a consumerist utopia and the ‘blow-things-up’ technique, Doner took limited artist-edition Louis Vuitton handbags and detonating them in Upstate, New York. The photos and the harvested debris from these explosions were first exhibited the end of 2009.

Jordan Doner

Jordan Doner at Serge Soroko Gallery

This new series on display at Serge Sorokko Gallery, expands on those original explosions by packing the bags are with luxury ‘shrapnel’, as Doner calls it all – luxury watches, sparking jewelry, lipstick, stiletto heels, rhinestone encrusted cuffs, and silicone breast implants.

First, here are my doubts. At the prices that the bags go for, around $2500 – what if the bags are fakes? What if Doner’s critique is in fact a postured critique using fake bags? NYC, the artist’s hometown is known as a source for fake luxury bags in Chinatown. In which case, Doner’s desire to blow up the utopian consumerist ideals by blowing up symbolic representations of that ideal, in fact achieves only the opposite by blowing up fake luxury handbags. Because of the status of the bags within the context of this show is so paramount, I was hoping to see the actual tags and receipts somehow presented to verify the theoretical position of the explosion.

Secondly, there’s the question of the source material reference, and the artist’s dialogue with the work of Antonioni. Doner’s work should be seen as a cover version of the Antonioni, instead of an iteration of the idea, which would make the discussion much more interesting. If Doner’s work celebrates the blowing up, by replicating the explosion, with luxury goods or with other status signs, the homage becomes an action in support. The blow up then serves as an anti-consumerist utopian exercise.

Also in this series, Doner explores several contemporary artists in his Antonionian utopian critique of luxury arts by exploding scale replicas of Donald Judd’s volumetric “boxes” and an Equilibrium Tank sculpture by Jeff Koons – (that must be fakes). The gallery proclaims that the “debris from the destruction will be displayed alongside the resulting artworks in a near-forensic manner.” While I certainly take issue with the idea that the artworks are displayed in a near-forensic manner, once I understand the idea of the fake art work being part of the anti-consumerist exercise, by including a critique of contemporary art consumption, with the choice of the artists that he selects, the work really seems to start to take shape.

Doner Parachute copy

Lastly, the space is swaddled in backlit parachutes that are reflected and refracted with mirrors and photographed. With this, the artist crafts wall sculptures, mixing actual parachutes with his photographs of ones to create his own personal “utopias” in an attempt to fade the distinctions between the projected materialistic fantasies of a luxury class and everyday reality. In this way, according to Doner, the entombing of the gallery in white military parachutes blurs the representation and physicality of the artist’s utopian critique evident in the photos and videos.

Jordan Doner parachutes

Jordan Doner parachutes

With this I disagree. The images of the parachutes are beautiful, though they don’t really work in the ‘blow-up’ critique, nor do they suggest a new utopian path – and if they are meant to, that path is completely obscured. But the photographs are stunning regardless of the ‘new path’ suggestion.

The photographs and the videos are great. They are mostly pictures of things blowing up and that’s almost always pretty cool, and the parachute pictures are pretty.

And yes, as an Antonioni exercise, storied within a critique of class, consumption, luxury and fashion, it’s a great success. Though having been photographed by a fashion photographer, and on display along one of the toniest shopping streets in San Francisco, across from the Paul Smith, Alexander McQueen and Agent Provocateur store, where bras sell for $800, it’s also deeply and likely unintentionally ironic as well.

Jordan Doner window

Jordan Doner window

One must only wonder how Doner decided to price his artwork. Did he price them as surrogate luxury goods, critiquing the consumption of luxury goods?

Jordan Doner

Jordan Doner

With that last question everything becomes so meta that viewers heads are ready to explode, with the anti-utopian critique coming full circle back to the viewer.

The show marks Doner’s first exhibition in San Francisco.

Serge Sorokko Gallery 55 Geary Street San Francisco CA 94108 (415) 421.7770 http://www.sorokko.com

Written by POVarts West Coast Editor: Chuck Frank