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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…