Saturday, October 14, 2017

Thoughts Left on the Page

installation view, Daniela Campins: In the Middle of This Frase, Eastside International (ESXLA), Sept 15th - Oct 20th, 2017

Part one of a series, working title: "Postcapitalist Painting"


To the outside world, it seems that Los Angeles’s cup runneth over with new art museums and high-end galleries. Some of these new, moneyed cathedrals of fetishized capital exist to present high-end contemporary art collections that include million dollar acquisitions by the likes of Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Richard Serra and Basquiat (Broad, Marciano). Others are sprung from real estate development riches (Main Museum), or are new incarnations of older, established institutions (ICA-LA). Without digging too much deeper, one could be forgiven for thinking that the art world begins and ends among these spaces and the new mega gallery outposts that are springing up along side them, affirming the legitimacy of the art within, in part, by their market performance (Hauser and Wirth, Spruth Magers, Maccarone, Matthew Marks, etc). The art exhibited at these places wins the public relations battle, and this side of the scene has its front to the world at large. But beyond the spectacle of this there is a community of established, working, contemporary artists at the ground-level in Los Angeles producing important work, despite little engagement with the moneyed side of the art world-industrial complex. A great deal of what they produce is painting. Such a great deal in fact, that some definitive currents and strategies have emerged among the painters of this community. What they all have in common is a direct and human-scaled approach – most of these works range in size from modest to minimally heroic; and a strong indexical sense of the presence of the artist themselves – as this work is not industrially fabricated in quantity by the alienated labor of technicians in warehouses but hand produced in the studios and studio spaces of artists who are more than likely maintaining a living alongside their practice that has little to do with the market demands du jour. Some of the overlapping aesthetic and conceptual groupings that have emerged among the work of these artists range from edge-to-edge intuitive abstract strategies, to more materially-based pattern and grid riffs all the way to deconstructed, figurative investigations and more.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Spectre (excerpt)

A spectre is haunting the art world – the spectre of all who have been failed by the rapidly irrelevant notion of “contemporary art”. All the powers of the old art world-industrial complex have entered into an unholy alliance to exorcise this spectre—galleries and collectors, curators and critics, museums and patrons: 

  • Contemporary art enters broad public consciousness almost only as a function of late/ advanced/neoliberal capitalism. 
  • Too many students of art are indentured by crippling debt, unable to join the economy or advance in society. 
  • Many of the schools that teach art are overpriced administrative cartels that exploit faculty labor at the expense of students who are regarded as little more than customers. 
  • The continued dwindling of governmental support, respect, or faith in the arts creates even fewer opportunities for contemporary artists. 
  • The metropolitan centers for contemporary art are almost uninhabitable without the wealth and resources available to the upper class. 
  • Small, mid-size and emerging venues and marketplaces for contemporary art are getting squeezed out of the scene, acutely reflecting the larger wealth and income inequality across the globe. 
  • The political response from contemporary art has been stymied by its own systemic complicity in the larger issues; many who are privileged enough to participate in art benefit from the status quo. 
  • There is a fundamental disconnect between the moneyed world of contemporary art and the less institutionalized scene of most working contemporary artists today.

On one end there are art stars, post-internet online celebrity artists, many commercial galleries, many corporate sponsored and private museums, the larger, well-funded art nonprofits, most collectors of contemporary art, art fairs, art auctions, online art sales platforms, much of the art world print media, the brandname art schools and programs, many professional curators, art advisors/consultants/buyers, writers, academics, and critics, and art book publishers. 

And on the other end there are artist-run initiatives, un-institutionalized or less institutionalized alternative spaces, small-budget, specific, and civic-run art non-profits and museums, working artists (artists with day jobs a.k.a. regular jobs), many state university art programs, community college and university exhibition spaces and museums, artist-curators and exhibition producers, online and social media based art writing and blogging, artist-run or alternative art study programs and independent art presses and publishers. 

The latter is all too familiar with, and has aspired to be part of, the former. The former appears barely aware or cognizant of the latter. The edges of the division are not precise, but the world of art of the 21st century is increasingly seeming like two worlds, the distinctions more felt as much as they are deduced by the participants. The motivations of both worlds are probably the same at heart (the wealthy were already wealthy when they got into art), but one side has its face to the world as the entire, official world of art and the other is easily viewed as trying to “sneak in”, hoping to not be mistaken for the help, as those of us on that side frequently actually are—preparing and shipping art work for exhibition, assisting artists successful enough to hire assistants, adjunct teaching art to communities the art world’s doors are not generally made known to at community colleges and public universities. These are often gigs that new MFA’s from the brand name schools aren’t typically caught doing, perhaps because they have been taught that they won’t have to—teaching first-generation college students about drawing and painting is not a representative ambition of such students of these professionalized programs. In such an era as this, the notion of an artist whose only self-imposed obligation to the world is the production of their own personal art practice can easily smack of self-indulgent entitlement at best, and oblivious abuse of developed-world privilege at worst.

Read the rest in the latest issue of Rabble, available for $5 from Insert Blanc Press

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Front to Back

Snow in the Desert, 2017, acrylic on canvas
Half-way between the vibrant exuberance of Rebecca Campbell’s images and Luc Tuyman’s clinical stroke-by-stroke reproductions lay the gliding, neutral toned figures of LA based French painter Claire Tabouret. In Eclipse, the artist’s first solo exhibition with Night Gallery, portraits and scenes are transcribed in a loose, assured line. The monoprints and canvases reveal a casual draughtsmanship unhindered by any photographic flatness. Despite the contrasting patterns that come together to form figures and backgrounds, every moment of detail in Tabouret's pictures is merely suggested. These suggestions contribute in different ways depending on the body of work. In the Frosty Morning depicts a figure in a coat, suit, and hat. More information would be required to make out this individuals face. This lack of info creates mystery; mystery invites narrative. The withholding of key bits of information is at work in Snow in the Desert and The Wanderer, both of which feature figures (characters?) whose backs are turned to the viewer. In other smaller portrait works, the suggestive line work serves to de-personalize the figures. The smears of paint across their lips highlight the interpretation of these largely imagined figures as more like mannequins than models. This is an engaging and wise riff on the notions of the subjects artists paint vs. literal “painted subjects” of models wearing cosmetics, and the problematic generation of images of them as mannequin-like objects.

Installation view of Claire Tabouret: Eclipse at Night Gallery, Los Angeles CA. Image from

The press release of the exhibition attempts to diffuse any viewer-generated narrative momentum by spoiling the ending in several of the works. The figures in the larger works and monoprints are characters from history, of various levels of obscurity and notoriety, and knowing a little bit of their stories imbue each scene with a poetic fascination. With this info, the turned backs, snowy scenes and desert wanderings dovetail into themes of isolation, obscurity,  and operating with one’s “back to the world”, to paraphrase Agnes Martin, one of Tabouret’s up front subjects and inspirations. The portraits and group scenes have their “front” to the world, and consequently seem less individualistic and more anonymous than the obscured figures of the other works. If there is an incongruity within the exhibition it is with the two group scenes, the titular The Eclipse and The Viewers. Both are reminiscent of earlier, more assured group portraits of debutantes, one of which was scene here in LA last year at SADE in Lincoln Heights. The anonymity of the faces in these two newer group scenes confuse their effect next to the smaller portraits, which make better use of such depersonalized blankness, their faces serving as canvases within the painting. 
The Wanderer (Blue), 2017, acrylic on canvas
In The Frosty Morning, 2017, acrylic on canvas

There are more aesthetic lineages at play in Tabouret’s work that reference some of figure painting's all-star team. Elizabeth Peyton comes to mind with some of the portraiture, and the visual wonder and abstraction surrounding the figures in some of the larger works has a Peter Doig feel. In some instances, Tabouret transcends the superficial qualities of her influences for deeper, more genuine effect. Functioning in all of the canvases is a disarming, restrained and informed use of neutral hues that serves to contextualize the images as having a life before they were references, and imparting a slower, more contemplative read. The paintings are apparently begun with brighter colors that are muted over time, and some of this higher intensity color remains in the monoprint works. Many of these articulate Tabouret’s themes better and more immediately. The mediation of the monoprint process contributes a beneficial layer of abstraction and simplified color that deepens and enhances formal cues of narrative, isolation, and mystery. While there are select passages in the canvases that glide with painterly insight, some of the monoprints’ entire compositions exude this quality. Delicate renderings of fleeting light and cast shadow just coalesce in these works, suggesting even less specific information than the paintings.

The Stains (Brown) 2017, acrylic on canvas

The Stains (Garnet) 2017, acrylic on canvas