Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stillness After Eruption: beauty recognized

6 – 7 December 2009

I did NOT drive straight to Barneys New York from the Marilyn Minter show at Regen Projects. I actually strolled down Santa Monica Boulevard to Robertson and the Margo Leavin Gallery to have a look at the Roy Dowells. They were paired (beautifully) with some absolutely fantastic new canvases (and panels) in pigment and collage by Brenna Youngblood. (There was also a trio of John Millers on one wall that for some reason (not simply the Op aspect) made me think of Bridget Riley (I keep thinking she’s done something almost identical to this sort of textural stress pattern in short oblique and vertical lines; though maybe hers were wavier). It’s interesting and occasionally refreshing to look at work by artists like Dowell who are still engaged with very basic, fundamental issues – the vocabulary and syntax – of empirical observation, reconstruction, deconstruction, decoding and re-synthesis – a kind of traditional (at least since the second half of the 20th century – a kind of post-Cubist analytic approach) way of working, painting – that is nevertheless clearly engaged with the world here and now. Working in a relatively small, self-contained format (about 16x12 sq.in., acrylic with collage), Dowell selectively ‘re-images’ a world or worlds and or diagrams over it, in a vaguely New Image way, variously paring away or making openings into an always ambiguous ‘external’ where illusionistic depth is always suppressed and the symbolic or semiotic elements, the ‘world’s’ flotsam are pushed to the rigorously ordered (or perhaps not-so) surface. It’s hard not to sound vague without going into specifics about one piece or another; but I really don’t have the time for that and in any case should probably go back for a second look. So many qualities that seem to allude to work both past and present (e.g., classic Cubism; a kind of poetic Minimalism, and more contemporary, graphic, even conceptual work).

Against this sort of backdrop it becomes all the more exciting to look at work by someone like Youngblood, who is similarly engaged with that external ‘world’ – its photography and illustration – its re-configuration and framing (literally – she plays with the frame and has absolutely no problem violating it) – but in a much more immersive, consuming way; unhesitant to radically re-order, almost obliterate it, only to unearth something very new yet true to the empirical experience. You sense (in the titles, too) this push towards a kind of narrative that has been thoroughly hashed out and all but thrown out, exploded – pushed into a crucible that leaves us with its essence, zooms in on the most crucial elements. It can be both very subtle and slightly crude. Youngblood is at her best when she pushes the envelope – violates the frame in every sense. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it’s breathtaking. Again, I know I’m being infuriatingly vague – but I can only recommend you go have a look.

So ANYWAY – (panting a bit here – are we out of breath yet?) – I hooked up with my pal, Angel Chen, and her dog Romeo for a second look at the Marilyn Minters – and boy did I need it. Do you remember those fragmented, quasi-portraits in the back gallery? Well, I didn’t either – that’s how fast I went through it the first time – insane. And who did you think the subject (as almost always, based on a photographed subject) was? Maybe you thought it was someone like, oh say, Patricia Arquette. (There was one – that was a photograph, a large C-print – 3-4 portrait with the hand drawn up to the face – that looked more than a little like Isabelle Huppert, albeit an Huppert of at least a decade ago.) Uh-uh – take a look at the checklist. That face (in one of the paintings) pushed to the shower head isn’t called “Wettest Pam” for nothing. That’s Pamela Anderson! And she’s, uh, beautiful. I don’t mean Pamela Anderson pumped-breast sex-queen gorgeous. I mean, just – quite beautiful. And probably somewhat younger – yeah maybe a decade – looking. (Memo to Pam: You can take it down a level, doll. And you still have that rack. So.)

Minter is wonderfully self-exposing about her methodology and techniques. About half the works on view are straight C-print photographs – already rich in tonality and incident – really astonishing. The paintings – huge, expansive (108x180 sq.in.) – simply take it to the next (and the next and the next) level: the explosions and eruptions – of colored, flavored carbonated beverage, of caviar eggs (or looks like it anyway), colored sugar or granules (or, as in the Pam Anderson panels, simply water or spray), take on a painted life of their own, a heightened aura. (These large panels are mostly fragmented faces – noses and lips, tongues, barely-there eyes, mouths open to catch the bits of food and drink tossed at them.) Areas of pale, vari-colored or deeply pigmented flesh elide into quasi-abstract passages that yet meld with the depicted elements and the picture as a whole. (Richter, among others, seems influential here. But then his influence is ubiquitous.) They’re spectacular. But then we sort of knew they would be, right? What’s new and interesting here, is that smaller, just slightly more focused (or simply portrait-straightforward), quieter image: the Pam Anderson portraits. They are extraordinary. And Anderson is simply beautiful.

Okay – so after Angel has taken a flock of photographs of Romeo posed in the middle of the gallery in front of a couple of these amazing paintings, we regroup in the carpark to talk clothes and make-up (I guess in my case that means face-lift) – no seriously, make-up. It turns out Minter has minted (sorry) a new line of colors for MAC. Why are we not surprised? But still! Girlfriend! So – I’m heading over to Barneys straightaway to have a look (yeah, I know – NOW – I should have just gone over to Robertson – and I was right THERE – but, okay, I didn’t. So shoot me in the leg. Besides, I had to have a look at those Dowells and Youngbloods. So anyway, after a few detours, I head over to Barneys. And – well you probably know – no MAC counter (there hasn’t been one there for a few years). So…. but you know – I’m just going to leave it there for a minute. Because I have to get back to my research for my Artillery deadline. (I’m working on it, Tulsa – honestly.) I mean I really do. And then…. (ohhhh you have no idea)…. Back soon, I hope.

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