Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Memorial Day Weekend, NY, 2018 – part 1

Day 1

When we come to NY, we stay with friends in Greenwich Village. It’s a dream really. We walk to Chelsea because we’re from LA, and walking through a sea of humanity to get to where you’re going is sort of what we came for. There’s absolutely nothing comparable to window-viewing in Chelsea, but it’s good to have some specific targets in mind. We hit one right away, an exhibition of Inka Essenhigh’s paintings at Miles McEnery Gallery on W 22nd St. Essenhigh was an early influence of mine, she came to speak at the University of Houston when I was there, in ’02 or ’03. At the time I was still looking at contemporary art for ‘permission’; permission to paint this subject, or that way. Then and nowEssenhigh’s forms seem slick and precisely defined in reproduction, like animation cels for lost scenes from Disney’s Fantasia. In person, the paintings reveal Essenhigh’s hand and the minutiae of her decisions. Figures melt into floppy, suggestive forms, occupying a world free from the constraints of gravity, space, reality. The clarity of the enamel paint surface draws the eye into beholding ambiguous forms that tease with narrative possibility. 


Inka Essenhigh, Girls Night Out, 2017, enamel on canvas, 60 x 58 inches, 152.4 x 147.3 cm

Inka Essenhigh, The Shape You're In, 2017, enamel on canvas, 46 x 72 inches, 116.8 x 182.9 cm

Inka Essenhigh, Party of the Flames and Flowers, 2017, enamel on canvas, 48 x 55 inches, 121.9 x 139.7 cm

One street over from Miles McEnery is one of the tentacles of the Gagosian empire (there are 5 in NY alone). Within the gallery on this warm May day is Ancestors, an exhibition of new paintings by British artist Jenny Saville. This is as good as it gets for me. Opinion is divided, but for me these works offer a corporeal vision of a psyche dismembered and fractured by history. They seduce with amorous revulsion, weeping with paint and gestural fits. Bodies of diverse size and color are smashed together and placed on pedestals, daring the viewer to see them in a light that is still not bright enough – the light of a non-male eye. Historically, statistically, most images of women are produced by men. Correspondingly, it is not surprising to me at all that Saville’s “pyrotechnics” are dismissed by critics oblivious to their own biases, with repeated comparisons to Rubens, Salle, Condo, Auerbach. Gagosian’s roster is 79% male, and represents the penultimate stage of artist canonization before institutional enshrinement, where the gender statistics aren't much better. Art does not exist in a hermetic vacuum, divorced from the context of its time or the systemic oppressiveness that defines that time. The standards of formal analysis are not absolute Platonic ideals above issues of identity. Art, like scripture, often reveals more about the reader/viewer than the author/artist. 


Jenny Saville at Gagosian, New York

Installation view of Jenny Saville: Ancestors at Gagosian, New York.
Jenny Saville, Fate III, 2018, oil on canvas, 102 3/8 × 94 1/2 inches, 260 × 240 cm

Day 2

We head down to the Bowery to catch Songs For Sabotage, the 2018 New Museum Triennial, dubbed by Jerry Saltz the “I Am More Woke Than You” triennial. I didn’t feel that it was "strung out on privileged bullshit" but I am not totally unsympathetic to what I think he means. There was perhaps less of an electric air to it than the last triennial, Surround Audience, but 2015 was a different time wasn’t it? Bailing out on an attempt to process the concept of geontopower certainly helps maintain Saltz’s "folk critic" point of view (a "folk critic” with a Pulitzer Prize no less). But to dismiss Elizabeth Povanelli’s admittedly esoteric concept upon it’s first major exposure in the world of art feels a bit hasty. Were it used to justify distant, opaque, cynical, elitist gestures, perhaps I would dismiss it as well – art that dismisses the viewer should be dismissed by the viewer. Fortunately, the approaches and tactics present in Songs are familiar, accessible, and responsive, while at the same time remaining highly idiosyncratic and unexpected. As for geontopower, it is the New Museum after all, and new approaches to obsessively unpacking the unprecedented, cancerous monetizing of every aspect of life actually does feel like the right thing to be doing at this point in time. Like much great art, these works from all over the globe attempt to contend with content that defies cogent, verbal articulation. The heat of the hot button issues can be felt in many of these works without knowing specifically which buttons the artists are pushing. I give in to the urge to share images of the work of Los Angeles painter Janiva Ellis: riots of color and imagery, unabashed, hand-wrought, and immediate. Playing with the fire of faces, caricature and cartoons, Ellis's bold color and sunny skies are spoonfuls of sugar to help the medicine go down. 



In the Lower East Side we visit three galleries: Magenta PlainsCANADA, and yours mine & ours gallery. Our hosts in the Village recommend an exhibit at Magenta Plains, a solo exhibition of paintings by Alex Kwartler. Subjects and objects include tuna cans, popcorn, pennies and the titular snowflakes. I am drawn to a pair of Tuyman-esque paintings of pennies dissolving into grey, austere fogs, fading memories of money. Just my two cents. At CANADA, the paintings of Daniel Hesidence are close to hitting a moving target between imagery and effect. Recurring head-shaped forms force a tense reckoning with the other visual information. The strangeness is compounded by the swirling line work flipping over and under, trying to play at being recognized as something too. While walking down Eldridge St. I notice some work I recognize from LA, Mandy Lyn Ford at yours, mine & ours. Though the materials of Ford's work are paint, cardboard, glitter, canvas, wood, and the like, in her hands they read more along the lines of cake, frosting, sugar, sprinkles, etc. Abstract painting as decadent, over the top dessert. Those colors, that glitter, and the confection-like qualities combine with the ferocious material presence and sublime interior logic, both two-dimensionally and three, to create a more 'nutritious' tension.









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