The current exhibition of paintings, watercolors, and prints by Sylvia Plimack Mangold at Alexander and Bonin (March 16–April 28, 2012) got me thinking once again about the different kinds of spaces she has constructed in her work, beginning with the tilting planes in her early paintings, such as “Floor 1” (1967), “Floor with Light at Noon” (1972), and “Two Exact Rules on a Dark and Light Floor” (1975), all done in acrylic on canvas.
In 1981, Bess was reintroduced (or, for many of us) introduced by way of a small one-person exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Barbara Haskell organized the show and there was a small pamphlet available for free. According to the pamphlet, the symbols in Bess’ work were based on “obscure sexual references” and there was something “lurid” about them.
Forrest Bess was born in Bay City, Texas on October 5, 1911, one year before Agnes Martin (1912-2004) and Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) joined him on this planet. Martin’s entry point was Macklin, Saskatchewan; Pollock’s was Cody, Wyoming. Martin and Pollock moved to New York in order to study, and left in order to preserve themselves. Both made the paintings by which they became famous after leaving New York.
There are a number of things that distinguish Zak Prekop, who was born in 1979, from other young painters. The most important one is that he hasn’t turned what he does into a style or, in today’s parlance, a brand consisting of signature gestures. For while he has developed a method of making based on collage and optical disturbance, he has kept his options open. He embraces both the literal and the fictive as well as intertwines them in ways that are assured and compelling.
“One picture leads to another,” Alec Soth tells the two filmmakers in Somewhere to Disappear (2011), a documentary that follows him around during the last two years that he worked on his photographic book, Broken Manual (2006-11). Later, in the film, he says: “I want to be carried.” Soth yearns for a subject to overwhelm his curiosity, leading him into places and situations that he couldn’t have otherwise foreseen. Photography is his means of discovering both the self and the Other, and where the two meet. It is how he finds “a path through the world.”
Allison Miller is a young abstract painter who lives in Los Angeles, a city of few pedestrians. It is a vast, sprawling circuitry of vehicles and traffic jams, of getting from one place to another in the shortest and most efficient manner. You can still find neighborhoods to live in, but you cannot walk very far. Poor people take the bus. Taxis need a GPS. Wandering is not permitted.
At the far end of the main gallery Thomas Scheibitz mounted the painting “Untitled (No. 632)” on a slant within an inset in the wall of Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. Its four rectangles, thinly painted in rose and violet washes or a combination of violet, green and brown, with varying densities of white brushed along the edges, were simultaneously divided and framed by a wide band that is partially painted industrial gray with some of it khaki.
In the 1990s, Fabian Marcaccio coined the word “paintant” by fusing “painting” and “mutant.” In his “paintants,” he would sometimes carve and expose the stretcher bars. He worked on burlap and fabric. He used photographic images and applied various mediums to digitally printed surfaces. His materials included oil paint, silicone, acrylics and sand. He made relief-like brushstrokes out of silicon and attached them to the surface of his work. Sometimes they extended out onto the wall, like an extra limb. They were neither natural nor artificial, but a hybrid combination.
Joyce Pensato draws in charcoal and paints in enamel — dense, clinging soot and viscous liquid. For years her palette has been black, white and silver, though color is beginning to make an appearance in her recent paintings, mostly as splatters and drips. The drawing process is one of making marks, rubbing them out and making more marks, with line being the essential form. In the paintings, the line is made of enamel that initially appears to have been applied quickly, though its varying densities and its field of drips and splatters makes it clear that it wasn’t done in a single shot. In both drawing and painting Pensato is committed to finding the linear form that captures her subject matter, be it Homer Simpson, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Batman, Groucho Marx, Felix the Cat, toy clowns, or not-so-cuddly monkeys.
The large paintings in Glenn Goldberg’s recent exhibition are part of a series collectively titled Elixir. They are half as tall as they are wide. “Eighth Elixir” (2011) is less than four feet tall and over seven feet wide, but most are slightly less than three feet high and five feet wide. Done in acrylic and ink on pale gray, gessoed grounds, the paintings have an undulating visual hum to them — think Philip Glass and Terry Riley —which is both soothing and disconcerting. This is because Goldberg effectively meshes two palettes on a gray ground — one is black and white, while the other consists of muted, often transparent colors ranging from near primaries to turquoise and violet.
The central thing that distinguishes Chris Martin from his forebears (Forrest Bess, Alfred Jensen, and Simon Gouveneur) is his meshing of visionary symbols and images derived from mass culture, particularly from the world of popular music. He has paid homage to James Brown, “the hardest working man in show business,” in a number of collages and paintings, including, in this exhibition, “Reverend Al in Mourning” (1989 – 2011), which is a large painting made of industrial aluminum foil, which includes a photocopy of a tiny, grainy newspaper photograph of Al Sharpton mourning the legendary singer. The other distinguishing feature is his slyly anarchic humor. (It’s hard to imagine Forrest Bess telling a joke).
I met Simon Gouverneur in the late 1980s, when I gave a lecture at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Something that I talked about that afternoon prompted him to introduce himself — I am guessing it was Wifredo Lam. We sat in a drab conference room. For the rest of the afternoon, before I caught a train back to New York, he and I wandered through dangerous territory, which was the problematic relationship between art and race. He was happy to speak to someone who was sympathetic to his quarrel with multiculturalism, and its ideas of essentialism and who shared his interest in visionary art and painters such as Piet Mondrian and Alfred Jensen.