May you stay forever now…

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It’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Our week away in New York was plotted on the back of my desire to go see the current painting show at MOMA (The Forever Now). A flimsy excuse perhaps but as such surveys are a rather rare occurrence it seemed worthwhile and provided the alibi I was looking for to get back there). The exhibition has come in for a fair bit of stick but what it did offer was a take on some of what is about currently. It’s thesis, of course, didn’t particularly match up to the selection. After all Amy Silman cut her chops a ways back before digitisation and has pretty much consistently ploughed her own furrow since…and rather good it is too. It was a shrewd move to more or less give her a room of sorts to herself. She’s a good painter, what Matthew Collings might call an ‘authentic’, and sat rather oddly with the rest of the show.

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Amy Sillman

There were plenty of others included who one might uncharitably describe as being a wee bit too clever by half. This may be the flip side of the coin…after all if we are now in an atemporal age then some of us will want to parade all that knowledge (though maybe its more just information…) in every canvas we make. I’d judge that Mark Grotjahn was riffing Picasso primitivism through an abstract expressionist/tachiste/school of paris circa 55 schtick and whilst the results were amongst the more decent pictures on display they didn’t for me resolve themselves fully enough to be really excellent paintings.

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foreground right – Mary Weatherford…middle ground – Matt Connors

Matt Connors take on the minimal, by way of Colourfield, with exaggerated Barney Newman ‘tears’ thrown in for good measure was another example of being too knowing and maybe not spending enough time actually looking at what you are making. Even less of that, for me being an old fashioned fuddy duddy, seemed to be going on with Joe Bradley‘s crude drawings on canvas installation that was fore grounded in the display…presumably in a super cool, hey we are ‘epatter le bourgeois’ except that we all know what’s going on here so its cool anyway kinda way.

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Oscar Murillo

Oscar Murillo is a hot ticket right now…with his canvases going on the market for stratospheric figures…but its hard to see exactly why. There’s a calculated rawness in these part third gen abstract expressionist (what Clem disparagingly called ‘the tenth street touch’) and part eighties graffiti pieces that looks superficially attractive with so much cool self referentiality around but ultimately they too just looked a bit slapdash and unresolved to me. It was a nice touch however to leave a bunch of the not so good ones around the floor so we could play with them…of course my Facebook friends know this is something I can’t resist! Richard Aldrich gave me a few laughs…for me at least he was less po-faced about the whole mash up idea. I loved the silly take on a kind of Jasper Johns riff illuminating a slide of an old painting within a painterly framing field.

Goodness knows what Julie Mehretu was up to here. I’ve previously admired her beautifully crafted drawn and painted architectural multi layered works.  But here she seems to have taken up a kind of sub Twombly scribble as if to say hey I can do a gestural, loose and poetic scramble except that – well – and I hate to be unkind – the result is a boring and visually unattractive set of canvases that simply didn’t hold this viewers interest at all.  She’s one of several artists who seem to have ‘bottled’ their ‘MOMA moment’ that would certainly include Laura Owens, Rashid Johnson and Michael Williams, all of whom, to my way of seeing, have made much better pictures in the past.

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Mary Weatherford

For what it’s worth my two (relative) newcomers that got me at least interested enough to spend a good deal of time pondering were Nicole Eisenman and Mary Weatherford.  I put the parentheses there as neither artist is a newcomer to making and exhibiting – both have been about for quite a while – but this is probably the first time they have ’emerged’ into the big arena.  Eisenman has moved into a curious and quite wacky space of portraiture about which it’s difficult to talk sensibly…the pictures are undoubtedly a bit ‘dumb’ in the very best way possible.  Weatherford, on the other hand, seems positively quaint with her sensitive colourfield abstraction offset by subtly wonky lines of neon and its attendant cabling disrupting the delicate colour washes.  Neither seemed, to me at least, to be using the sledgehammer to crack the ‘atemporal’ walnut in the exhibition title’s metaphor.

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Nicole Eisenman

There were others here too…Kerstin Bratsch, Michaela Eichwald, Charline von Heyl, Dianna Molzan, and Josh Smith but to be honest none seemed to be making much that enthralled and several seemed to be using very limited, and rather weary, tropes to say very little that hasn’t been said before – and some time before – the ‘atemporal times’ the curator suggests is the time in which this work has been created. So all in all a flawed yet interesting and eclectic selection of what’s out there now.  There are of course oodles of artists who might have made the thesis more concrete and I’d offer recent works by Julian Schnabel, Jeff Elrod and Avery K. Singer as but three such..but then I’d imagine just about every dealer across all five continents could do the same…

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Generational differences..?

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Though its a while back now and sadly one of the two is about to close I wanted to write a little about two shows recently viewed. Both of them feature painters hereabouts – serious practices that intrigue and occasionally slightly baffle me, mostly I suspect, because of the thirty plus year generational differences between them and me.

Tristram Aver‘s display in the Angear space at Nottingham’s Lakeside entitled ‘There is a pleasure in the pathless woods’ is deliberately difficult to read, both in terms of content but also in the form. These oval pictures (for the most part) have an intense LED neon light band that acts as frame and visual tease obscuring the painting content through the relative darkness that these garish glows create around the imagery within. It’s a novel way of using neon…I saw something similar a few years back in a late show of work by the renowned COBRA artist Karel Appel where pornographic images were disrupted by shards of neon over them. In Appel’s works however the disruption was blatant, a way of posting a disjoint from the potentially shocking and offensive imagery deployed. [They must be quite controversial still as the above link is the only reference or image I could find on the web!]  Aver seems more subtle, aiming I guess to draw you into the gloom the better to explore the imagery within.  I’m (probably wrongly) detecting a trend developing with the neon…the current painting show at MOMA in NYC features works by Mary Weatherford that have it splashed over the surfaces of her atmospheric and gauzy abstractions. But with many (most) painters nowadays drawing on the legacy of screen based digital imagery perhaps its not surprising they want to get a glow going on in the finished work too?  As for Tristram’s imagery there’s a heck of a lot of deliberate elision at work…so that field sports of the 1800’s sit cheek by jowl with riot cops and cheerleaders, baying hounds trade blows with logo explosions and much more besides. Maybe for my taste a little too much though the resulting melange is unified in part through pattern imposed here and there in largish doses.  One worth seeing and still time to do so…though accessing the venue is no mean feat whilst the Tram works continue!

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Also on show (though you’ll have to be damn quick unfortunately) is another worth a viewing.  In ‘Harlequin’ at Gallery No.1 in Repton, South Derbyshire another painter –Louisa Chambers– is flirting with patterns. But here they take centre stage unencumbered by overt references to imagery obviously from the ‘real’ world mediated through a plundering of the internet. Though thats maybe a little wide of the mark too…given that two of the core sources of ideas in these paintings are modernist architecture and the history of non-representational paintings and that its likely? that the origin of these in the main might be the internet. Wherever the sources (and one suspects there are a host of others from the vast world of pattern, both as ‘art’ and as decoration) the resulting works are oddities…there’s a wonky and deliberately handmade aesthetic here with elements either juxtaposed in clanky and curious ways or left suspended in space as in the digitally printed work, a large blow up of a small work on paper, Harlequin that forms the exhibition’s centrepiece.  Is there another trend at work here…earlier in the year we chanced across Jeff Elrod’s solo show ‘Rabbit Ears’ at Luhring Augustine where he too was blowing up small sketches, doodles and very provisional collages.  I like the notion of these pictures being oddities – too much of the smaller scale contemporary abstraction by those under forty is either tasteful or deliberately ‘zombie’ in idea and execution.  Chambers, in her best pictures treads a fine line twixt these two polarities.  Louisa gets about a bit…we’ve actually shown in four mixed shows together this year…so even if you’ve missed this one no doubt there will be a chance to see her work again soon.

Both shows use aspects of contemporary painting practice in many ways not so dissimilar to my own…but I think if there is a significant difference it has to be buried in the context from which we emerged.  I’ve done my fair share of digital exploration (see my Extracting Digits for a summary) but I come at it from a foreign land, I am, as Lauren Laverne suggested recently an immigrant, whilst Tristram & Louisa were born and brought up in this place.

So two artists, within a few miles of here both pushing hard at careers as painters with a proper practice…heartening at a time when a lot of current activity is flim flam bricolage more often than not produced only to state subsidised command…but enough of my mardy prejudice it’s Xmas…a time of good will to all so I’m off to savour Sarah’s tastefully decorated trio of trees…

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Merry Christmas one and all!