Damien Hirst: Colour Space Paintings, Gagosian Gallery, 24th Street; through June 30, 2018
At this stage of the game for Hirst, when hype has become both draw and a distraction vis-a-vis his art activity, he has been attempting to re-presented himself as a seemingly un-ironic, authentic (for lack of better term) abstract painter. I’ll say, unexpectedly, that consolidated foray into pointillist non-objectivity on display here rises to the company of postwar predecessors like Richard Pousette–Dart, Larry Poons, Veja Celmins, and, especially, Yayoi Kusama, in terms of visceral optical power–specifically Kusama’s simultaneous vision of the endless universe and the buzz behind our eyes.
Hirst himself has linked the featured works, mainly from 2016-2017, to his long-standing interest in pseudo-scientific content via images of cells under a microscope. He first produced “spot” paintings in the 1980s in the context of post-Minimalism, which segued, reciprocally, into candy-colored tablets of big pharma. The circle forms were typically arranged in grids or bounded patterns, sometimes shifting within the compositional structure through color arrangement. In the best works here, the spots, in a staggering diversity of tinted hues, are densely applied in all-over fields with an uncanny stroke that seems mechanical in regularity and hand-hewn with occasional delicately trailed paint threads. Depending on light or dark grounds, they can intimate staring into the daylight sun or night star gazing, rendering the exhibition title a double-entendre.
As a bonus, if seeming non-sequitur, a sliced shark piece from his break-through days (1990s) as art infant terrible is installed in an anteroom before the street-front gallery window. Perhaps a reminder of the shark-infested blue-chip art sea in which he swims, but also, of the preeminent theme of death that has haunted his oeuvre. In that sense, to borrow a metaphor from Kusama on her own practice, the new paintings can suggest the obliterative nature of infinity.
Odili Donald Odita: Third Sun; through Feb. 10 at Jack Shainman, 513 W. 20th St. (Chelsea)
Robin Rhode: The Geometry of Color; through Feb. 24 at Lehman Maupin, 536 W. 22nd St. (Chelsea).
Kelley Johnson: Slow Hum; through Feb. 4 at Freight & Volume, 97 Allen St. (LES)
A key theme in the group of recent abstract paintings at Shainman by Odili Donald Odita is celebration (according to the press release). Yes. Odita’s sharply juxtaposed, color spectrum-spanning, slices and shards pop back, forth and across these flat pictures as viewers approach and recede. Odita has already mastered this post-Minimalist terrain, climactic in his public murals; he continues here to mine its infinite potential when it comes to visceral variation–especially with nuanced chromatics. With each work momentarily mesmerizing, collective dynamics include: tension between perceived patterns and their disruption: illusionistic spatial shifts, algorithmic autonomous patterning, and attention to color theory; plus, not least extra-formalist design inspiration (e.g., textiles; architecture). Above all, the presiding staggered-dagger motif sets the body, as well as the eyes, abuzz.
Robin Rhodes also creates outdoor murals with geometric foundations; however, in socially subversive contexts. Namely, on city walls in Johannesburg (S.A.)—a la authentic graffiti, with which he then interacts in performances. At Lehman Maupin, these projects are completed (as it were) as art photographs. The painted backdrops recall, variously, point-to-line-to-plane Kandinsky, Sol Lewitt’s systematic faux-frescos, and, occasionally, simplified archetypal symbols as embedded in local traditions of façade decoration in the region. The superimposition of Rhodes’s own silhouette in various poses conjures Banksy and Bauhaus mashed into absurdist street ballet. Collectively, the framed up rhythmic arrangements bind together, bounce, and juggle such myriad associations.
Flip side to Odita’s crisp-cut partitioning by trading on related geometric coin are the recent airy works of Kelley Johnson at Freight & Volume. Johnson has left tape strips and over-stepped masking edges intermittently and strategically around his striped and scaffolded compositions, through which white space peaks in, often in sectional, horizontal bands. To use the sonic metaphor of Kelley’s exhibition title: a distillation of Odita’s big band to a low (as well as slow) hum. Leavening classic Minimalist monochrome with pop-neon color and, in a few sculptures, more fragile structure for which kites were Kelley’s inspiration, the hand-tinged element tempers his neo-geo modality with somewhat ironic, off-beat charm.
Jonathan Monaghan: Disco Beast; Bitforms, 131 Allen Street; through December 10.
Alison Elizabeth Taylor: The Backwards Forward; James Cohan, 291 Grand Street; through December 22
Jonathan Monaghan‘s recent work is all about surface anxiety, as opposed to the broiling humanistic variety. Put another way, external, as opposed to visceral, sensation. And put a third way, in this show specifically, about unicorns.
A furry neo-geo black-on-black painting at the entrance doubles as a slightly futuristic, stylish corporate emblem. Squint – it’s Starbucks. Huh? Around the corner is a video introducing the unicorn into a post-industrial, narcotic sterility to be featured in the photos that dominate the show. (Starbucks has recently tried out a rainbow-ish “unicorn” concoction that backfired and quickly disappeared.)
Anyway, the photos (dye sublimation on aluminum) depict antiseptically shining, cropped architectural views, each “stamped” with a central blingy seal to suggest, collectively, a richly eye-popping, slightly chilling, taxonomy of chic. Precisely organized in the proverbial viewfinder, the digitally slick, window-gridded vistas are as credibly imaginable as they are slyly and fantastically ominous–key-coded to the absolute now of pending simulated environments. Most compelling are several 3D-printed porcelain sculptures of unicorns captured in sacs–hi-tech, post-millennial re-dos of Christo and earlier Surrealist wrappings.
Alison Elizabeth Taylor is diametrically opposite in terms of technique and sensibility–hand-hewn, warmly complex marquetry-derived “paintings.” Here, the subject matter is essentially overblown genre–in the manner of early (19th-century) Realism–street life, escapes into nature, introspective portraits and interiors–the real local grounding all being Los Vegas. Taylor’s signature wood work is now further complicated by the interpellation of diverse collage materials. Specific art historical figures and images are, at times, referenced in Taylor’s maximalist swarms of patterns and textures, reigned into ultimately intimate, engaging, patchwork visions.
“Kara Walker: Sikkema Jenkins and Co. is Compelled to present…” at Sikkema Jenkins (530 W. 22nd St.) through Oct. 14.
“Aurel Schmidt: I Rot before I Ripen” at PPOW (535 W. 22nd St. 3rd Fl.) through Oct. 7.
“Barbara Chase-Riboud: Malcolm X: Complete” at Michael Rosenfeld (100 11th Ave. @19th St.) through Nov. 4.
“Mary Corse” at Lehman Maupin (536 W. 22nd St.) through Oct. 7.
“Suzan Frecon” at David Zwirner (525 W. 19th St.) through Oct. 21.
“Maya Lin: Ebb and Flow” at Pace (537 W. 24th St.) through Oct. 7.
“Janet Fish: Poppies and Pinwheels” at DC Moore (535 W. 22, 2nd Fl.) through Sept. 30.
The one with the most pre and post-opening press so far lives up to the billing – Kara Walker (Sikkema Jenkins). These biting, heart-wrenching, sprawling, churning, Americanist, Freudian, large-scale drawings and drawing-like paintings push everything she has done over the past two decades to newly excruciating heights. Beyond a challenge, they dare viewers into her racially-charged, amalgamated visions of depraved eroticism and emotional and physical violence through which the powerful have subjugated and bankrupted others historically; and ensnare with fluid linear elegance and mash-up iconography in which all manner of images across time and place are re-mixed and spewed. Staying her decades-long artistic course, a reinvigorated investment in her hard-core thematics of race and linked monochromatic artistic roots are palpable. She also continues with her extensive, only partly parodic exhibition (as well as art) titles–read this one in full at the gallery and consider it when musing on the work. However, a shorter phrase wielded by precedent upstart Robert Colescott in his own pre-emptive defense of devil’s advocate race-baiting in his art would be apt: “Self-censorship is a cop-out.” No question, Walker remains one of the most gutsy, defiantly provocative artists out there.
Aurel Schmidt (PPOW) also specializes in colossal, curvy, psyche-scape drawings–in her case, post-pubescent, priapic fantasies conveyed through stoner-Eden settings inundated with butterflies, daisies, snakes, and vulva-centered spiderwebs. Her sensibility blends faux-naivite with a dash of harajuku and a druggie- decadent twinkle. Hello Kitty-ish kitties may be a bit rabid; and a few exquisitely drawn rodents (one on a skate board) just above floor level tug back to urban earth the flighty fancies envisioned above. Trigger warning: the “high times” sexual undercurrent explodes (yes) in a back room installation-homage to the erect member of her bf—including several graphic close-ups. Good for her (the careful attention to detail seems to express). But the critter-and-flora-packed, delicately rendered mirages are the wow factor.
The sculptural sentinels, or steles (as they have been aptly, described) of Barbara Chase-Riboud (Michael Rosenfeld) are majestic, yet at a human scale that addresses the viewer as an autonomous entity. The past decade (mainly) of work here is a collective tour de force of her renowned signature mode developed over nearly fifty years: thick folded slabs of cast steel and aluminum combined with densely draped, ropey textile elements. The results of this gendered yin-yang formulation suggest soulful effigies akin to ka statuary of ancient Egypt. The metal sections and knotty, braided skeins visually meld through the monochromatic (mainly) schemes—deepest blacks, rich golds, and one blood red show stopper, furthering this effect of “beings.” The works featured ostensibly complete a series begun in 1969 dedicated to Malcolm X—not at all a secondary aspect of the hovering content, though conferred after her initial foray into this formalist vein.
Mary Corso has also continued on an abstract trajectory from early on—namely, “light and space” exploration in painting formats (with others starting out in southern California c. 1970). Again, I don’t hesitate to use the term “majestic” in summarizing the flickering Minimalist planes she creates with micro-plastic bits blended into tarry black pigment and juxtaposed with silky, silvery acrylic in broad, flat bands. The very mechanics of seeing activates her surfaces, further impacted by viewer movement. Recent work by Leo Villareal and Veja Celmins came to mind while staring into Corso’s spatial “galaxies”—achieved with streamlined methods and means.
Likewise, the recent work of Suzan Frecon (David Zwirner) conveys long-term, discriminating devotion to abstract painting–hers employing a very subtle palette of earth tones and lightly, carefully biomorphicized geometry. She is most concerned with proportional relationships in terms of intuitive perception. However, landscapes are implicated (not to say “depicted”), as much by tonal mood as by mounds and horizontal passages. With a conceptual turn of intention and phrase, one could say the same of Maya Lin’s new sculptural installations (Pace), which translate rivers of the world from maps to glass marble arrangements and silver-pour creations crawling up the walls and pooling along the floor (along with a few other inspired material variations). Since her spectacular public debut decades ago (The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, design c. 1981), virtually nothing Lin has produced has not been well worth experiencing and engaging.
An anomaly in the art age of millennial Chelsea is the gorgeous, painted still life oeuvre of Janet Fish (DC Moore)–again an artist who has stuck with her early art impulses and affections. The selections here, spanning over thirty years, highlight Fish’s studious yet exuberant fascination and facility with reflections, contours, textures, and color in the observed real world. All manner and types of natural and artificial objects are reigned into loose, often spilled-over set-ups that Fish maintains as she paints, working exclusively from life. Collectible ceramics, kitsh tchokes, arm-to-table bounty, Chinese take-out, crispy potato chips, lush floral arrangements, poppy-pocked field flowers, and multiplying are glisten in jam-packed, vigorous compositions that fold in swiftly stroked patterned fabrics. It’s a palpable pleasure to revel in these prosaic reveries grounded in domestic life.
Becky Suss: Homemaker; at Jack Shainman, 513 W. 20th St. ,through June 3.
Gehard Demetz: Introjection, at Jack Shainman, 524 W. 24th St., through June 3.
Deborah Butterfield, at Danese/Corey, 511 W. 22nd St., through June 24.
As per several examples in the current Whitney Biennial, Becky Suss is among a number of committed young artists consciously engaged in representational painting in a continuum, yet finding a recognizably particularized niche–in Suss’s case, literally, through interiors. Here, geometrically-sectioned and arranged rooms, softened by a uniform matte finish, featuring juxtaposed patterns and faux-textures punctuated by personal objects and details of décor. Her compositional spaces nod to both linear perspective and the vertical tilt of Japanese and Persian painting styles wherein ornamental passages become planes of their own. From these pristine yet lived in, clue-filled surrounds viewers will delight in puzzling together a portrait of the inhabitant, who, among other things, prizes order and craftsmanship—in both the what and the how of the reality represented.
Home is not only where the heart is, but where Freudian drama festers—insinuated in the carved children of Gehard Demetz. Melancholic, menacing, nutcracker-ish and reliquary-like (occasional hollowed backs) with ghostly yet super-realist features, the crafted element is (again) highly compelling. Supernatural under- and overtones suggest the psychic effects of early religious indoctrination vis-a-vis self-identity.
Deborah Butterfield continues to explore the psyches and souls of horses in these recent transcendent and majestic sculptures. Her intensive long-term relationship with her subject (collectively; as individuals) is conveyed in the subtle animation, or put another way, the qi, that these life-size (especially) representations encapsulate. The coup de grace is the tran-substantive medium: the apparent skeletal construction of each from worn and worked wood strips, branches and boughs is actually cast bronze with trompe l’oeil patina–one of a kind. The hand-hewn assemblages are destroyed in the process. First time for everything: “must see.”
“Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s”; Whitney Museum; through May 14.
Reganomics; mainstreaming of hip hop, hipsters, supermodels; gender and body politics, from the Pop-post-feminism of Madonna to the onslaught of AIDs. Insert art world: the disco art show; Wolf-of-Wall-Street collectors; out-sized art stars (bringing Pollock’s posthumous persona to its ironically macho [after Warhol] conclusion) and the (reciprocal) PR-savvy mega-dealer (read Queen Mary and Gogo); reverse-chic tiny salons; (props Gracie Mansion); graffiti brought in from the cold (not to mention, scaled to the sofa), with Keith Haring (gay white artist) and Jean Michel Basquiat (of African descent; i.e., black in America) leading the way.
The socio-economic and cultural climate not only ushered the definitive infiltration of photography into the galleries in the 1980s, but also a barrage of refractive, hand-hewn painting. (That’s even if the hand was hired by the artist of record, a la Mark Kostabi–one bold-face name in the era missing from the Whitney’s collection. Hmmm. Certainly his early style was appropriated, overall, as seminal “East Village”; but I digress.)
For one thing, paintings long have been assimilated in the West as trophies of wealth and (thus) taste, and, in tandem, are far more easily commodified (conceptually and physically) than sculptural and new media modes that gained traction in the upper art echelons through the 1970s. This revival of sorts in the US (centralized in NY out of art schools all over) was bolstered and burdened by a similar burst in Europe, especially Germany, where some incarnations were deemed by some cognoscenti “reactionary”–dangerously or just redundantly so–in their gestural equivocations of unbridled virility.
Yet, in the end, despite numerous claims to the contrary, painting hardly died and still thrives in the digital age. Through the 1980s, the eternal appeal and joie de peintre for those on both sides of the picture plane was outed, unabashedly–for what it’s worth in itself (everything–a fundamental experience of visual artifice haunted by the painter-magician, to lift from a more complex Walter Benjamin metaphor). In particular, figurative painting of any ilk could seem transgressive (an aesthetic buzzword of the era) in its structural (literal and semiotic) “decadence,” compared to the purposefully esoteric continuum of inventive forms aka “the historical avant-garde” (see Donald Kuspit, The Dialectic of Decadence, 1993).
If you weren’t there, well, the Whitney’s got most of it–pretty much to a tee; if you were, I think you’ll enjoy/agree. Of course, the museum also constructed “it”–not least, via its ongoing Biennials of “best new work,” which accrue caché for emerging artists and have served as feeders for the collection at the same time. (Just saying. It’s all part of the culture industry.) Along that vein, it may be fun (to oversimplify) for some to identifying the dealers most in on the action here.
What is here is a cache of exciting paintings on the surface, variously deeply psychological, politically explicit, or purposefully left at accessible sea level, as far as content. The entrance screen wall has been painted with Haring’s mural design from his (unprecedented, commercial) Pop Shop, onto which is hung a Haring edge-to-edge sprawl on faux animal hide that binds his inextricably child-like and sophisticated art primitivism; and examples by fellow graffiti-istes Basquiat and Kenny Scharf. It’s a cold-hearted viewer who, at this point, can resist Haring’s autonomous mazes of intertwined, loving stick figures; like-wise, Basquiat’s raw and poignant word and image play, and Scharf’s Surrealism-meets-the-Jetsons cosmos.
The hit room (for me, of course) includes a dark, expressionist Julian Schnabel featuring a male hero/savior; a prurient tourist beach scene by Eric Fischl; a terrifying Leon Golub from his blood-red-grounded mercenary series: an antidotal (to all that drama), splashy and parodic self portrait by Robert Colescott (he’s done in by three Graces); and an almost-Realist slice of landscape by Louisa Chase. Beyond their own merits, each indicates directions of many peers not represented here.
Other works recalled vividly: Walter Robinson’s dime-store paperback novel cover image over printed fabric work, which brought to mind earlier Sigmar Polke and later Richard Prince; of few abstractions, Ross Bleckner’s and Terry Winter’s biology-evoking images with diametrically opposite painterly sensibilities; and piece-meal painted montage puzzles that anticipate Photoshop by Julie Wachtel and David Salle.
Caveats: the Schnabel is not one of his broken plate paintings that really made his mark. The Whitney’s example is concurrently on view on another floor in “Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection” (through April 2); likewise, among the most compelling Basquiat paintings in existence, Hollywood Africans (1983). There is much other brilliant work in this (ostensible) portrait show (not limited to painting), including a personal favorite, Gary Simmons’s sculptural installation, Lineup (1993; first featured in Thelma Golden’s landmark, Black Male, 1994-95); and some engaging odd ducks, e.g., Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s carved stone female Buddha type, Chinoise (1914). However, the theme and organization is catch-all and amorphous. Yes, expanding preconceptions and boundaries of genres and (other) categorizations with highly subjective takes can be interesting to a point but here the term “portrait” looses meaning in a way too simplistic to say, simply, that this was the point.
Titus Kaphar: Shifting Skies; at Jack Shainman (513 W. 20th; and 524 W. 24th) through January 28.
Kaphar had a breakthrough with his extensive painting series, The Jerome Project, 2014, in terms of public exposure, as well as artistic and socially committed aims. This group of portraits juggled and compressed deep personal motivations, hyper-realist painting style, Byzantine-golden grounds, the visual rhetoric of mugshots, and post-painterly abstraction; in each, the subjects are partly obscured by tarry blackness seeping up over the image field.
Around the same time, Kaphar was developing two other directions (according to his first [dual] exhibitions at Shainman; see post): one, steeped in revisionist history thematics sprung from past art images as catalysts and templates upon which to surface and flesh out the ostensibly invisible black presences outside–or erased from–these “frames”–joining, in this terrain, immediate predecessors and peers like Robert Colescott, Whitfield Lovell, and (fellow Yale alum) Kehinde Wiley. The other has been his direct engagement with and poetic documentation of Black Lives Matter from its beginnings, especially prominent images of the spontaneous hands-up-don’t-shoot solidarity gesture partly obscured by a maelstrom of ghostly brushwork. (One of these was published in Time, 12/10/14, in conjunction with the selection of BLM as collective runner up for Person of the Year).
The works on view in the current show further all three veins mentioned, variously. Individualistic portraiture remains prominent; notably in a series of intimate, sepia-toned images on raw canvases, and larger, Warholian off-register-photo-silkcreen-type images of (to most) anonymous, “shaken” individuals.
The torch of history is carried through in the clever, curt, crunched and jewel-toned Twisted Tropes, 2016;
Titus Kaphar; seen at Jack Shainman, 20th St. (Jan. 19, 2016)along with other distorted, ripped and re-organized pictures and planes throughout; with several silhouette-cut-out wood panels that move away from paint entirely. Elsewhere, more photo-based imagery vies with windy brushwork in soldier subjects–namely uniformed and armed (African American) Buffalo soldiers. Familiar visages of George Washington pop up throughout; including (I believe–or a similar colonial “father”) in squished-profile within an experimental glass series of amorphous-heads. I think many will agree the most compelling is in the form of an over-blown, tipped and corked canister with a bit of “brown juice” (both liquor and molasses are evoked) puddling at the bottom.
Overall, the works here are no less energetic for also conveying a slow and steady visual exploration of presence and absence simultaneously.
The morning after the election debacle brought immediately to mind a painting in this timely (for the artist, the art world, and American society at large) Marshall retrospective. On a huge, gold-fringed canvas tarpaulin, a glitter-winged, but gravity-bound women fusses with a flower arrangement in a pristine, spacious living room. One wall is adorned with a banner featuring medallions of MLK, JFK, and RFK above the slogan, “we mourn our loss”–itself echoing a cloud of fading photo-screened portraits hovering at the top of the composition above a carefully glitter-scripted caption, “in memory of.” With a silvery-grisaille companion piece hung nearby, in which memories of the 1960s infiltrate a domestic interior veiled by shiny beaded curtains that can read also as bars and grounded with the inscription, “what a time what a time,” Marshall’s layered iconography and mix-and-match painting techniques provoked in this viewer a palpable nostalgia for the immediate post-Civil Rights decade or so possibly approaching the intensity of Marshall’s own that inspired them.
Marshall’s entire 30-some-year oeuvre has been related in content to the subdued but rich private and pubic, social and emotional summaries encompassed by these two mentioned works–first recognized definitively in a breakthrough series based on urban-periphery “garden apartment” housing projects erected through the 1960s and 1970s, here exhibited in full (about a half dozen unstretched canvases from the mid-1990s). In these vaguely Norman Rockwell-ian blow-ups, bicycles, dogs and school kids (except they’re all black) abound. Adults are scarce, but, when they do appear, are sartorially Afrocentric or literally white-collar. sporadically dripped passages over and under figurative imagery seems screen-like and stain-like, in terms of clouded memories. The aesthetics and messages overall vacillate between tentative and idyllic, challenging, disappointing, and ultimately loving, through the eyes of a knowing artist from early on destined to stay the course. Especially gripping (perhaps as I had looked at it closely years before, now encountered in a political context that lent nearly to tears) is a scene of three youths performing a solemn and private patriotic ceremony in a patch of yard, which bears the slogans, “Happy July 4th Bang,” and “We are one.”
Marshall’s stylistic signatures of very dark skin color and deliberate, stoic poses can evoke traditional African votives–ameliorated with the Western realist figurative tradition in which he is deeply ensconced. Canonical art history seeps into his naturalism one way or another throughout, variously referenced and appropriated. This is most obvious in an intermittent, loose series of artist-at-work pictures, capped by a bubbling, stocked and staffed studio extravaganza to rival Courbet’s ubiquitous proto-modern prototype (The Painter’s Studio . . . , 1855). A tour de force is a bustling hair salon scene emanating shades of Ernie Barnes and Barkley Hendricks as well as Rockwell, Archibald Motley, and maybe a hint of Kehinde Wiley, not to mention a shout out to Chris Ofili directly in a reproduced poster of his art hung in the salon–all crowned with a sarcastic riff on the Renaissance novelty of anamorphosis–as you walk across the picture plane, an abstract blob in the foreground becomes a disembodied blond Barbie-head.
Then there are the ethereally-hued and musically-ornamented pictures of black love–family; romantic; in myriad settings, which stop short of both sentimentally and irony to convey a rare authenticity (for lack of better term). Add light-box-presented comics that Marshall has developed over the past decade surrounding a character called “Mastr.” Final bonus: none of the artists I’ve mentioned, but many more, are included in a gallery of “favorites” across time and place from the Met’s collection selected by Marshall.
Great paintings change through time, carrying their pasts with them. Many in this show fit that. Any American should be moved by them; as well as anyone interested in the continuing powerful potential of figurative painting.
Works described (google):
Souvenir I, 1997 (MoCA, Chicago)
Memento #5, 2003 (Nelson-Atkins)
Untitled (Studio), 2014 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
New Museum of Contemporary Art, May 4 – June 26, 2016
A relatively modest mid-career survey of paintings and a few sculptures, the latter, clearly secondary, which I’ll leave to others. The gathered paintings very well represent the accessible, figurative style–or non-style–that Eisenman has established over the past two decades, and which carries its own subversive message in the context of a self-propelling, “progressive,” avant-garde. Figurative is not to say “realistic”; however, her narratives and themes feel that way. They tackle the contemporary American zeitgeist through lesbian subjectivity–capped with large doses of middle-brow humor.
Eisenman first received critical attention in the context of a very loose network of very loosely described Third Wave feminist artists dubbed “Bad Girls” by pioneering New Museum director/curator Marcia Tucker, the title of a two-part 1994 exhibition. (Although not included, she was included in a follow-up L.A. show of the same title curated by Marcia Tanner.) A tie-over here is the breezy, I’m with Stupid (2001), in which a clownish man-child wears a T-shirt printed with the title slogan and an arrow pointing to his exposed penis. Hilarious every time–more than ever, with the Trump campaign.
The earliest painting on view, Spring Fling (1996), suggests the entrenched social and cultural binding of women to nature through a flora-bearing female nude cuffed to a rack of cobbled tree boughs. A primavera allegory, via Botticelli, Ingres, and William Blake, turned into a deadpan “al-ugh-ory” of the exhibition title. Subtle art historical appropriation abounds throughout.
The enormous canvas, Real and Imagined Progress (2006) is a bravely intimate view of the artist at work in a boat-like studio flanked by, or floating in, a sea. Allegories obvious. Traces of Max Beckmann and mural-esque American Regionalism perceptible. Among other things, the painting demonstrates technical painterly exploration, from impasto to scraped, watery, highly naturalistic and schematic passages. Take-away, in a time-worn phrase: painting is not at all dead; nor is the time-worn artist studio theme. An amusing variation, Were-Artist (2007), looks in on a mannish, hairy-armed painter with pointy, curling fingernails working at the easel by moonlight. Night Studio (2009) poses a butch/femme (female) couple provocatively under the artist’s spotlight amid stacks of art books, which, might symbolize the Super Ego and art task at hand both challenged and fed by libido.
A departure in subject matter was seen in several paintings most directly taking on the allegorical mantel, while melding further “between-the-wars”/ Depression German and American styles. Populated with weary, hollowed-eyed masses, these canvases also brought in Munch, Ensor, and sometimes Bruegel. Created on the cusp of the 2008 mortgage crash, they seemed to anticipate the desperation of the Occupy movement and, at times, environmental disasters like the Flint, MI water crisis. Floating through: stupefied hipsters, zombies, sex workers, and vagabonds.
The most recent paintings included turned back to the studio/ bedroom complex, where Eisenman seemed most at home, so far. Several draw from the late, self-scrutinizing Philip Guston. Spending time amidst Eisenman’s paintings should further, or restore (as the case may be), anyone’s faith in the engaging continuity of non-ironic representational painting in the context of the life and times of an honest, socially aware, individual artist.