In three recent volumes, artists express nostalgia for the smaller, scrappier New York art world.
LOS ANGELES — Paintings about painting are really about life, proposals for how it might be lived.
Ever since the beginning of this century, when Ruth Root got rid of her references to Philip Guston, she has gotten better and better. In her current show, Ruth Root, at Andrew Kreps, she has kicked out the jams, and the results are unlike anything else being done right now.
A couple of years ago, I heard Chris Martin give a talk to Columbia MFA students. Rather than the standard artist’s slide lecture, Martin brought along his conga drums and a small band, a girl wearing a metallic dress and carrying a boom box, and a couple of people who tore sheets from a book of Italian Renaissance drawings and handed them to audience members.
The recent resurgence of interest in contemporary painting has posited the unique object — especially the handcrafted, the slapped-together, and the aggressively tactile — as yin to neo-conceptualism’s yang, a raggedy-edged refutation of the factory-finished, the reproducible, and the overly cerebral.
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.
Janet Kurnatowski has run her gallery out of the ground floor of 205 Norman Ave. for the last seven years. There is something both welcoming and powerful about her modest space. The finished plywood and low ceiling are a welcome environment; a spacious hobbit hole for art. The owner’s earthy dedication to her craft seems to radiate throughout the space. The current exhibition Idiot’s Delight was curated by Craig Olson, one of the gallery’s artists. The exhibition is a love poem of sorts, an ode to those who spend their days in the studio. Old skool Brooklyn artists like Jim Clark and Chris Martin hang their work proudly next to young up-and-comers like Elisa Soliven. The resulting installation is less about a unified aesthetic than a kind of rugged independence.
This week, how a Caravaggio becomes “discovered” and evaluated, Christo gets the green light for Colorado, artists who seek out their harshest critics, Terence Conran, erasing a Chris Martin, escaping the digital world, Occupy Miami art schools, street art in Iran and is politics performance art?
I’m as big of a Chris Martin fan as vlogger and writer James Kalm (aka painter Loren Munk), so the video he just uploaded on YouTube of Martin’s new solo person museum show — his first — at the Corcoran Gallery of Artin Washington, DC, is a treat.
The National Academy Museum’s Annual Exhibition, often seen as the Whitney Biennial’s dowdy cousin, still privileges the rich traditions that bigger museums, galleries, and curators often overlook when they focus on younger, sexier media like video, installation, and social sculpture. This year, due to the economic downturn, the 185th NAM Annual includes less art than usual, but has continued to choose outstanding artists deeply engaged in traditional studio practice.