10 November 2008

There's a lot of paintings up in the galleries this fall, which is a good thing. How can it not be? I like paintings. Paintings are really what I go there for. Video exhibitions should be confined to works with imagination and artistry. I like video, but I usually come away thinking that people in Williamsburg have cameras but aren't sure what to do with them. Large, post-industrial spaces lend themselves initially to single-concept sculpture series or installation works, because hanging paintings means filling up a lot of wall space which is viewed as daunting. So I note that the large space occupied by Gagosian on 24th Street which has housed large Serras and Mike Kelly high school catharsis carnivals is now showing its second straight painting exhibition, and I'm not afraid of progress, progress that returns to that old, obvious form.

I've only really been in Chelsea for 45 minutes for the past month, which enabled me to see the new Lari Pittman show and peek in on a few other things. The Pittman show (recommended) is up for the rest of the month.

I became interested in Pittman's work in the mid-90s upon seeing one of the Decorated Chronology of Insistence and Resignation series, taken in by the endlessly possible critiques of culture and form within the post-Arshile Gorky depth of the canvas.

Credit card symbols, are, first of all, two-dimensional, so they frame the other methods of foregrounding, and represent an inclusive entrapment, as when Ashbery notes that everyone is invited to the showboat to gamble. Pittman notes there is no culture in LA that precedes consumerist culture, and the canvases serve as depictions of commodity culture while simultaneously existing as objects within that culture. Beyond the object, though, there is life, the life of the canvas and art and the references to heart, body and soul. Debt is the postmodern medium of exchange between cultures, artistic debt being no less illusory as economic and political debt.

Pittman displays a proper appreciation for Picabia's own perspective on perspective, use of text, and his figurative strategies, an appreciation that is most recognizable with his early work but is continually developed on, transported from the masculine in somber wartime Europe to gay Day-glo culture in Los Angeles (shown: Pittman, This Wholesomeness, Beloved and Despised, Continues Regardless; Picabia, La Nuit Espagnole). If Pittman's early use of Victorian silhouettes relate to Picabia's figures, both images have the effect of removing the picture from time and space, grasping at an eternal erotic image.

Pittman's new show returns to eternal themes by way of referencing the Flemish vanitas painting of the 16th and 17th Centuries, which influenced Cezanne and Picasso (pictured: Vanitas by Juriaen van Streeck, 1632). That late Reformation-era genre's biblical grouping of art with vanity and death responded to the Catholic, Southern European baroque style of the Counter-Reformation, and perhaps Pittman is consciously reconciling his Protestant blood with his more talked about Colombian heritage, but he is clearly subjecting the gloomy sepias of Dutch interiors to his florescent Southern California palette.
Whatever the inspiration, Pittman isn't reproducing the objects of the vanitas tradition so much he is internalizing the representative strategies and playing with the still life juxtapositioning. The empty glass, for instance, remains for its utility as a convex mirror generator, but the skulls and scrolls are set aside for fried eggs, bunnies, and mice with butterfly wings for ears.

The utilization of the day-glo palette for cultural critique calls to mind the recent Sue Williams show at Zwirner. I am not inclined to report on shows that have ended, but the series is a variation on a theme and I can just put a picture on my blog,

which consists of day-glo abstraction with some body parts suggested in the Bacon/Matta vein, titled "Project for an American Century," a direct reference to the thinktank group that planned the Iraq War before the attacks of 9-11. My interpretation, which doesn't take much speculative daring, is that the works are suggestive of the Disneyfication of both cultural awareness where the lightness of pop culture obscures the death of over a million and the international promotion of this culture through pop music- bubble gum sensibilities. It was interesting to see the two shows in sequence, though I wish I had seen Pittman's first in a way because of Williams' direct appeal to the viewer. Pittman is all over the place and exists to be seen in its many permutations, which gives you more to do if you truck out there.

As I said, I didn't stray far from Zwirner and the 24st Street row in the time I had but I checked out some of the 23rd Street presentations amongst the pricey apartment lobbies, which included Nathan Redwood at Carin Golden that evoked Thomas Hart Benton on BC weed (in the sense that they're landscapes that aren't landscapes) with Guston-Crumb cartoon methods, and the easy on the eye artistry and art history references in the oils and bronzes of the straighoutta Yale MFA Havard Homstvedt at Perry Rubenstein.

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