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Three current exhibits focusing on recent MFA recipients show that painting is still being utilized by young artists for experimentation, even if they have to totally destroy the canvas with a hammer or fill it with cement. The Joan Mitchell Foundation 2011 MFA Grant Recipients at CUE Art Foundation, Pratt Alumni Painters at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery, and RISD MFA Painting 2012… at 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel all have a sampling of emerging artists who are both breaking and adhering to traditional techniques.
The exhibit at the CUE Art Foundation is the most diverse, with sound pieces, installation, video, sculpture and painting, all by the 15 Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant awardees from 2011. The grant was set up to help recent art graduates transition from students to working artists, and the exhibit in Chelsea can be seen as something of a debutante ball in introducing them with a formal exhibit and catalogue.
The recipients are from universities around the country, and therefore coming from different education backgrounds that result in some highly varied work. Kim Sheridan’s “Giraffe on the Street” (2012) is intelligently executed playfulness celebrating the mechanical animal toys that beckon on the city’s sidewalks, while David Finegan has a twist of painted metal in “They were the mighty, who, from old, were men of devastation,” which reveals a face bent from its form. (I was a little disappointed that the giant robots included in the catalogue are not in the exhibit, but since one seems to be fourteen feet high that may have required knocking out the CUE ceiling. I hope to see them somewhere soon.)
In another end of the spectrum is Marissa Lee Benedict’s “Exothermic/Endothermic Transference I” (2012), which didn’t look like much at first, but on further reading I found it is about the mixing of materials that either produce heat as they react (exothermic) or take in heat to react (endothermic), here that reaction being melting. I think the presentation could have been better aesthetically (the boxes in the background of my photo are the gallery’s), but I like the emphasis on the substance’s characteristics and that being the reason for the art, rather than just the material.
The installation by Luis F. Ramírez Celis appears like a straightforward cobbling of an architect’s archival work, complete with fading newspaper articles and contemplative black and white photos, but it turns out to be a documentation of a fictional Colombian artist he created and sometimes performs as called Lucio Celis. The piece is an involved commentary on the subjectivity of history, and the blue chalk sculpture included is said to be an untitled work by Lucio Celis from 1954, which was exhibited at the Museum of Art of the Banco de la República Art Bogotá, and it is implied (in the fictional newspaper clipping) that Marcel Breuer may have stolen its form for the entrance designed in 1966 for the Whitney Museum.
Robot sculptures and pseudohistory installations aside, the exhibit is also strong on painting, which connects it to the other MFA shows that concentrate specifically on painting graduates. For example, Daniel Jackon’s “Rocket Pops” of popsicles melting (there was something of a melting trend in this show) on the beach has an irresistibly delicious color in the oil paints.
Over in the Pratt Alumni Painters exhibit at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery, paint is morphing off the walls, particularly in Kris Scheifele’s work where, through the use of acetate, layers of paint were formed into three-dimensional objects free of any canvas. The exhibit features 14 painters who have graduated from Pratt in the past three decades, therefore there are some established names among the group, but also some recent graduates.
Russell Tyler’s works are stormy globs of paint, with “Wolf Dreams 4” (2011) appearing at first like an abstract mess of color, and then you realize that the reclining wolf is getting off on some trippy stuff.
Similar in aesthetic, at least in terms of slathering the paint on the canvas until it looks like it will peel off, is Trudy Benson’s work “Gusto,” although this is much more about distorting dimensions as your eye toggles back and forth from the spray paint to the stacked painted forms.
Then there is Matthew Deleget’s frenzied “They Don’t Love You Like I Love You” (2009), where four panels painted with silver were totally smashed by the artist, leaving jagged holes to the empty wall, showing that voids of paintings, at least when they are attacked in such an agressive way, can have just as much emotion as those without blunt force trauma.
Finally, I ended my higher ed art tour at 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel, just across the street from the CUE Art Foundation. Its exhibit RISD MFA Painting 2012... (ellipsis theirs) has some things in common with the other exhibits in the work by its 10 artists, including some built up canvases of visceral brushstrokes and a couple of painters working away from two-dimensional canvases.
Rachel Klinghoffer has three sculptures in the exhibit, two that are organic and white, and one that is this brick dripping metallics on a column wrapped in rope. In Dennis Congdon’s wild exhibit text, he describes her sculptural paintings as being “like the flying buttresses outside the walls of the Temple of Earthly Delights [that] create a space for elegance and lift. As they serve the beauty inside and can themselves be frightening, these paintings separate blossom from bloom, bosom from boom.” I might be a few steps behind all that, but the surface on her sculptures are surprisingly detailed with small embedded objects, which can only be discovered when viewed up close, making them much more interesting than their first impression.
Art Peña, similar to Matthew Deleget in the Pratt show, has destroyed the place for the paint within the frame, here with a cake of cement in “Attempt 17” (2012), a statement on artistic trial and error instead of Deleget’s angry love.
The three shows are worth a visit to discover some new names, and see how the traditionally trained artists, at least in regards to them having all studied art in a higher education setting, can make some interesting bends to what is expected in painting. And if the results aren’t exactly what they want, there will always be hammers and cement to make some radical adjustments.
The Joan Mitchell Foundation 2011 MFA Grant Recipients is at CUE Art Foundation (511 West 25th Street, Manhattan) through July 28, Pratt Alumni Painters is at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery (144 West 14th Street, Manhattan) through July 28, and RISD MFA Painting 2012… is at 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel (532 West 25th Street, Manhattan) through July 26.