Friday, July 27, 2007

Bradley Chriss at G Fine Art

Don't forget to see Bradley's new wall drawing currently on view at G Fine Art

Glenn Brown at Gagosian

Brian Barr

This past may Glenn Brown had an exhibition of paitnings at Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea. For anyone familiar with the faux impastoed paintings of Brown little from this exhibition will be of any surprise. The works were all in the trademark style and subject matter. The works of either anamorphic blobs or rococo young women swinging or posing in some fashion.
Brown’s work deals with the relationship of painting to mass reproduced images. Seen in reproduction Brown’s paintings appear to be heavily impastoed paint as in Frank Auerbach’s work. The stark difference is that in actuality, the paintings are as flat as can be imagined and the surfaces are highly slick. In essence he is making paintings that look like reproductions of paintings. This is Walter Benjamin taken to the extreme, perhaps flipped on his head, art in the age of mechanical reproduction, where the original now takes on the aura of a reproduction rather than the original losing its original significance because of reproductions.
I will grant that these ideas are interesting and the work is impressive in person in its technical finish. The thing is the ideas and paintings were interesting ten years ago when Brown achieved his early success and they have not changed since. Brown is making “Glenn Brown Paintings”, essentially copies of himself. However ironic this may be in connection with his conceptual basis, the works seem geared to offer collectors a chance to own a Glenn Brown of their own.
The most compelling works of the show were the paintings where the figure was removed in favor of blob-like form of fake brushstrokes. The questions this show raised to me were more related to the art world in general rather than Brown’s work. That being the dilema facing artists who achieve that level of success and the demand for a consistent product by galleries eager to appease their collectors. How can an artists avoid this inevitable trap? I don’t really have the answers, and I know there are certainly artists who have been able to continue making work that is still identifiable stylistically as theirs while still pushing and asking new questions of themselves and their work. In a prior review I referred to the most recent Dana Schutz show as an example of this. I acknowledge Brown has been around the scene far longer than Schutz and time will be the judge of her ultimate success. I will say this about Brown’s work, it is packaged beautifully. He filled the gargantuan space that dwarfs small museums with consistently well crafted paintings. He delivered the goods.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Francesco Clemente at Mary Boone

Brian Barr

From May 5 through June 30 Francesco Clemente had an exhibition of portraits up at Mary Boone Gallery in Chelsea. I have to be honest, I am somewhat conflicted as to my personal feelings about Clemente’s work. I can remember being a teenager and seeing the film Great Expectations, for which Clemente created all the original art works. The portraits he created of the cast for that film had a great impact on me, as untrained as my eye and critical judgement may have been at the time. I really thought, and largely still think, those works were exceptional for what they were: Portraits. Those works had an influence on my decision to pursue figuration and portraiture as a means of creative expression within the context of contemporary art.
It has only been within the past five years that my feelings began to change. The more research I have done the more I have discovered, in terms of the writing, and in most cases lack there of, on Clemente and other Neo Expressionists; the relationship of critical art, to blatantly “expressive” works to the point of commercialization. While I concede certain points of the criticism of the works of these artists, particularly Clemente, those portraits still have an impact for me each and every time I see the film.
The criticism at large about Clemente’s body of work and career taken into account, and my own personal fondness for Clemente’s portraits will form the basis for this review. The twenty or so portraits in this exhibition were all around five by eight feet. They were of either married couples or solitary early middle aged females. All the sitters are obviously wealthy, as made clear by their jewelry and fancy dresses. Perhaps they are patrons of Clementes, perhaps personal friends, perhaps that distinction is impossible to make?
Even with my professed affection for Clementes portraiture their was little for me to be excited by in this show. It could be my lack of ability to empathize with such obviously wealthy people and the blatant commercial motivation of the body of work (each had a sticker price of $200,000 – $250,000, and the show nearly sold out ). I don’t think that is enough of an explanation however. Each of the paintings in Great Expectations was commissioned for the film, and each was of well known actors, who are also wealthy. I think the answer lies in the lack of success of these paintings as paintings, as images, as engaging works even if only on a personal, emotional level. There were traces of the Clemente of old, in say for example how the eyes of one woman were painted or the hands of another, but on a whole they were very bland.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dana Schutz at Zach Feuer

Brian Barr

This past April Dana Schutz had an exhibition of new paintings up at Zach Feuer Gallery in Chelsea. While the body of work as a whole had Schutz’s usual sense of playfulness, obsurdities and obvious love of painting, there was something different in the new work that I haven’t noticed from her previous work. By this I mean paintings that are blatantly about painting as much as the stylization of Schutz’s early work. Everything from a painting referencing an undergraduate art class painting from a model to purely abstract works and even references to other painters like Alice Neel and Da Vinci.
She gives us a new take on the most reproduced, appropriated and lampooned image in the western art canon, the Mona Lisa. In Schutz’s painting however the world has turned and we see our beloved Mona in profile, giving us a glimpse of lies beyond the frame of the original masterpiece. What at first could be seen as an obscure figurative abstraction takes on an entirely different context as soon as one looks at the title, “Mona”. Even the title changes the context of the original and presents a far more informal, yet personal association on first name basis with the mysterey woman, yet with hair covering her face she has become perhaps more obscured.
In other paintings such as “Male Model” and “Tom” I see what to me are obvious references to Alice Neel, the prior being her later more famous style and “Tom” bares resemblance to Neels early career works.

Then there are the two completely abstract pieces, “Cleveland” and “Abstract Model”, along with the more obvious, “How we would give birth”. This last painting portrays a woman giving birth, with the new born child’s head and arms exiting an exposed, bloody vagina. The mother however is more concerned with the landscape painting in a highly ornate gold frame on the bedside wall than her partially born child. While the reference to Painting and its history is obvious, this image still retains a degree of ambiguity to me. It can be read as perhaps a statement about the importance of art and culture in the nurturing and education of children, or a statement about art as distraction from what perhaps the artists feels are more important things in life.
Finally there is the monumental, “How we cured the plague”. Everything from its huge ten by twelve foot scale to its subject matter reference a long tradition of historical painting, but the most unique aspect of this painting when understood in the context of Schutz’s full body of work, is the dramatic depth of perspectival space. Never have her paintings been concerned with conventional, western one point perspective, as this painting clearly is. Even her pallette shifts push the background further away, showing off her chops in this supposedly archaic technique in painting.
Any one of these paintings isolated from the rest might not add up to much, but as I walked through the space I couldn’t help seeing the connection between them all; Painting itself, its history as well as the act and practice of it. For me what was most successful about this body of work, while I concede problems with individual pieces, was the infusion of this content within a stylization that has become easily identifiable as Schutz’s, and yet at the same time I didn’t feel she was making copies of herself and past successes. I felt growth and challenging of her own value system. These works seem to be questioning and championing these values simultaeneously.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Yeah Kelly Ulcak, Big Time at Big Show, more H-town/DC links

Congrats Kelly! You've hit the BIG time at the BIG show!
opens July 13th at Lawndale Art Center in Houston.

A lot of congratulations have been going around
for our AU community this summer. Everyone
is doing great with their exhibits. More stories
and reviews will debut this fall. Stay tuned....

If you have any news or events, contact us!

Katherine Veneman opening, H-town links to DC!

Houston, TX - Art League Houston is pleased to announce the opening of Adaptation, a new series of paintings and drawings by Houston-based artist Katherine Veneman, July 13- August 24, 2007. Adaptation is the artist's first solo exhibition in the Houston area, and presents complex, abstract paintings that metaphorically charts processes of change-and growth-associated with experiences that affect us all as we face obstacles, shifts in perspective and in circumstance. The opening reception for the exhibit is Friday, July 13, 2007, 6:00-8:00 pm, with an artist's talk by Ms. Veneman at 6:30 pm.

"Topsy Turvy", 2006, Katherine Veneman

Informed by both painting traditions and the natural and built environments, Veneman's large paintings are complex, with rich multi-layered surfaces that describe a space which is at once illusory and tangible. Carefully drawn lines appear to be ropes and architectural structures, as they are engulfed by waves and swirls as chaos overcomes order. Planes overlap and intersect, blending together or sharply conflicting. Forms dissolve and reemerge, their color, marks and texture altered. The accompanying series of small black and white ink drawings forms a counterbalance to the highly-charged colorful spaces, offering clearly readable glimpses of spatial environments in flux.

Veneman says, "My work describes a history that is ongoing, and records a process of change as it occurs while at the same time allowing decisions that have already happened to remain visible. To me, Adaptation is about seeking value in the unfamiliar, re-inventing the known in the face of the unfamiliar-and expanding and testing one's worldview in the process."

Born and raised in the Washington, DC area, Veneman earned her BA in Fine Arts and History from Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts and her MFA in Painting from American University in Washington, DC. Her studio practice was based in Providence, Rhode Island for several years, until she re-located to Houston in 2003.