Sunday, May 25, 2008

Neo Rauch at David Zwirner

This is an absolutely breathtaking exhibition of paintings. As we enter the new millennium, Neo Rauch is the most important painter working today.

Neo Rauch
Armdrücken
2008
Oil on canvas
19.69 x 15.75 inches, 50 x 40 cm
Neo Rauch and Peter Doig are two of only a few serious painters who began their careers during the wasteland years of painting at the end of the last century and managed to escape the perils of the prevailing taste and critical discourse. Sitting with another painter at the waterside bar, having a beer, after seeing the Neo Rauch exhibition at Zwirner, I asked "so, who do you think are the most important painters working today?" Neo Rauch along with Peter Doig are at the top the list but then we fell silent, the truth is we could not think of any, painting had succumbed to a deadly virus which killed off the heroic painters.

Neo Rauch
Entfaltung
2008
Oil on canvas
118.11 x 98.43 inches, 300 x 250 cm
Neo Rauch's paintings revive the heroic, a quest to restore painting's link to its own history, a history which has been rejected and perverted by lesser painters resorting to the 'ironic' because they lack the conviction to carry on and extend a tradition.

Neo Rauch's paintings accept paintings history at it fullest value, without qualms or the pretense that it is not important. This is in your face painting, if you are a serious painter you have to deal with Neo Rauch, not copy or emulate him, but realize what the experience of truly great paintings feels like.

Make a trip of it, go see the de Kooning's and the Pollock's at the Jewish Museum, then zip down to 19th street and see Neo Rauch. They hold up. This is a very serious statement, they hold up, there are possibly no other living painters, aside from Jasper Johns who I would even consider making such a statement about. (In all fairness to Peter Doig, I haven't seen enough of his work in person.)

Neo Rauch
Die Aufnahme
2008
Oil on canvas
118.11 x 98.43 inches, 300 x 250 cm
The lineage of Neo Rauch's paintings cuts a furrow through through Surrealism to the present, a dreamscape of the imagination utilizing the full range of paintings pictorial devices to manifest a vision as a painting. As a painting, not just as an 'image' or a picture, these are paintings in the grandest sense of the word. They are incredibly inventive, in all aspects.

Some past reviewers of his work have gotten lost in the idea of "East German," or Soviet realism. These influences were intimately bound in his early life experiences and one would expect them to be as visible, as are the life experiences of any painter. I would say the same is true for the other peripheral contemporary influences in his paintings, what matters most, is what I see as a deeply rooted love of painting, which links these contemporary influences with paintings history, in an effort to transcend both.

Neo Rauch
Die Stickerin
2008
Oil on canvas
118.11 x 165.35 inches, 300 x 420 cm
In order to plausibly contain his colliding and wildly disparate imagery Neo Rauch as revived a pictorial space which is an extension of the cubist box. More expansive than the shallow cubist approach, the pictorial space in Neo Rauch's paintings is closer to a stage set than anything else I can think of. I've built a few stage sets, and while a stage set allows for a simple 3D mapped space, as a pictorial space it can also logically contain seeming unrelated disparate pictorial events, without loosing a sense of the pictorial logic of the painting.

Neo Rauch
Der Garten des Bildhauers
2008
Oil on canvas
118.11 x 165.35 inches 300 x 420 cm
This ability to make the viewer accept the paintings logic, to view the paintings pictorial space as a stage where the larger drama of contents dream can play, out is a major contribution to the history of painting. Just glancing at the small reproductions in the gallery overview, one sees an incredible juxtaposition of pictorial spaces, interior to exterior, walking the viewer into the space, or holding tightly to the surface, often all within the same painting, it is breathtaking.

Great painters have a way of making a painting look effortless and Neo Rauch's paintings feel effortless. He is a good draftsman, the paintings look like they are executed freehand, from the the imagination, but with a knowledge of what things in the world look like, convincingness. I'm not quite sure how to explain this, but these new paintings feel better painted than his earlier efforts, the paint handling is more focused, direct and more confident feeling.

If one was to imagine what a 'radical' painting would look like today, I don't suspect one would think of paintings like those of Neo Rauch. It's a surprise that these, vaguely Surrealist, somewhat traditional, representational, classically composed paintings can lay claim to being the most advanced painting of an era, but they are. Their radicalness lies in their ambition for painting itself, an ambition to restore paintings link to its historical past. Their radicalness lies in the way they expose that much of contemporary painting as nothing more than a product in search of a customer. Their radicalness lies in an expression of a way the painter can realize a dream pictorially by utilizing paintings entire language as a source of illumination.

Neo Rauch sets a standard that few painters can approach, these are paintings for the new millennium.

All images are from the David Zwirner Gallery.

Kerry James Marshall

At the Jack Shainman Gallery May 22 - Jul 3, 2008.

Thirty or so years ago, when I was an emerging artist, a young man came up to me and after a brief conversation, asked if he could come by for a studio visit, to which I agreed. That young man, just starting art school, was Kerry James Marshall. For some ineluctable reason I remembered our meeting across the years of lost and faded recollections. As time passed, I lost track of him, so I have been pleasantly surprised to finally see his paintings over the last few years.

The subjects of Kerry Marshall's paintings reflect a meditation on his own cultural experience, expressed using a foil of recognizable art genres to establish the settings for commonly shared life experiences. His paintings exhibit a wry sense of humor along with a poke in the ribs of the art establishment which I personally responded favorably to. It's a nice exhibition.

Kerry James Marshall
Untitled, 2008


Kerry James Marshall
Untitled, 2008
Acrylic on fiberglass
79 x 115.25 x 3 inches


Kerry James Marshall
Untitled, 2008
Acrylic on fiberglass
79 x 115.25 x 3 inches

Bottom two photos from the Jack Shainman Gallery.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

China Quake

Mother earth let humankind us know who's boss in the last week or two. The death toll from the cyclone which ravaged Burma, aided by its criminal and inept military government, is approaching 78,000 by the latest count. As if a cyclone wasn't enough, the most severe earthquake in 58 years hit China approximately a week later.

I can relate to the unnatural feeling of the ground moving. I still remember my first earthquake, my bed walked itself across the floor and things fell down. Since then I've experienced a few others, none were of the magnitude of the earthquake in the Sichuan region of China this week. A Richter scale magnitude 7.9 earthquake is severe. For example, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake (San Francisco World Series earthquake) had a magnitude of 6.9, as did the Sylmar earthquake of 1971. By comparison, last weeks earthquake in China was 20 times as strong. The death toll from the China earthquake is approaching 30,000 with the Chinese still working frantically to find buried survivors.

All of this makes the recent art auctions seem trivial and as I was Googling the news this morning over coffee, I came across a Chinese site with some remarkable pictures from the earthquake region in China. I do not read Chinese, so although I have included the captions, I have no idea what they say. Each caption is linked to the source page on the Shifang.gov.cn website.

These are touching photographs, presented without further comment.

红白中学的抢救现场仍在继续


图片/刘强


地震后的红白街道一片废墟(图片/什邡武装部)


四川什邡市蓥华镇倒塌的一处厂房,一名女子大声喊着被困亲人的名字,另一名男子则竖着耳朵听有没有回音。据当地救援队员介绍,这里有千余名工人被埋


四川什邡市蓥华镇倒塌的一处厂房,据当地救援队员介绍,这里有千余名工人被埋


为遇难者送行(图片/廖文飞)


惨状(图片/廖文飞)


醒醒吧!孩子!(图片/廖文飞)


图片/新华社 李刚


图片/谭存华


图片/刘强


抢救(图片/廖文飞)


手术现场(图片/廖文飞)


救治(图片/廖文飞)


图片/新华社 李刚


我的学校,我的老师、同学,我想你们
图片/冯彦

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Robert Rauschenberg 1925-2008

Robert Rauschenberg, Titan of American Art, Is Dead at 82

Robert Rauschenberg
1976 Catalogue
Smithsonian Institution.


Robert Rauschenberg
Canyon, 1959
Combine painting: Oil, pencil, paper, wood, metal, photograph, fabric on canvas, plus buttons, mirror, stuffed eagle, cardboard box, pillow, paint tube.
81 3/4 x 70 x 24 in. (207.6 x 177.8 x6 1 cm)
Collection Mr and Mrs Sonabend, Paris



Robert Rauschenberg
Collection, 1953-1954
Combine painting: Oil, paper, fabric, wood. metal, mirror on three wood panels.
79 x 95 3/8 x 3 3/4 in. (200.7 x 242.37 x 9.5 cm)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.


Robert Rauschenberg
1976 Catalogue
Smithsonian Institution.


Robert Rauschenberg
Black Market, 1961
Combine painting: Oil, paper, wood, metal, rope on canvas, plus four metal clipboards and valise with rubber stamps and variable objects.
49 x 59 in. (124.5 x 150 cm)
Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany.


Thank you.

Action/Abstraction at the Jewish Museum - I

Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976
May 04, 2008 - September 21, 2008
The Jewish Museum is located at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street

This is the best Modern Painting exhibition in New York right now. I have too many thoughts about this event to fit them all into one article. At the moment I have seen the exhibition only once and I want to take more time to view it again and consider its implications.

First Room, First Impressions.

I am a painter. Saturday was my birthday. With my best friend, the painter Biff Elrod, I went to the Jewish Museum, to see the exhibition Action/Abstraction, Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976

Entering through the heavy plate glass doors, straight ahead are two portraits, and I pause to reflect, they are photographs of Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, the two writers who played a passing role in this game.

I pause, as my attention shifts marginally to my right, towards two monitors which flicker dueling images, black and white memories captured, Willem and Jackson in the act, time stops, unwillingly my attention osscilates between the two painters, painters in the act, something I can feel in my soul.

If you are a painter you know what I mean, it is the most subtle form of identification, of an action taking place between exhaultation and pain. I stood there transfixed and I was not alone.

Willem de Kooning
Black Friday, 1948
Oil on Canvas
49 3/16 x 39 in. (125 x 99 cm)
Princeton University Art Museum

Diverting my attention to the side, my gaze settles on De Kooning's "Black Monday," then shifting a bit further to my left, Pollock's Totem Lesson 2. I pause. Recognizing this special moment in paintings long history, my breath becomes memory, as time, curiously glacial, concentrates my sensation towards these two paintings. Words cannot express my joy.

Jackson Pollock
Totem Lesson 2, 1945
Oil on Canvas
72 x 60 in. (182.8 x 152.4 cm)
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

I spin around, now, dizzy with sensation, Woman 1949, Number 9, 1951, exhale and focus my awareness, for me it is familiar history made manifest, these objects before my eyes, take me down and sooth my sensations with some small essence of truth. A truth, a fragmentary essence of an artists life at some fleeting, and save this painting, now lost, moment in time. A truth adding to a ritual repeated for forty thousand years.

Willem de Kooning
Woman, 1949
Oil on Canvas
64 1/8 x 46 in. (162.9 x 116.8 cm)
Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina


Jackson Pollock
Number 9, 1951
Enamel on Canvas
57 1/8 x 38 1/2 in. (145.1 x 97.8 cm)
Collection of Samuel and Ronnie Heyman

A short jog to the right, de Kooning's Gotham News, 1955. This is De Kooning at the pinnacle. This is one of the greatest paintings in history, not just modern history, all history.

Willem de Kooning
Gotham News, 1955
Oil on Canvas
69 x 79 in. (175.3 x 200.7 cm)
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.

A painting to make you weep.

Nothing else need be said.

If you are a painter you know, this is a miracle, something outside will or intention, it is the gods gift we accept with humility.

I stand transfixed.

I swear openly at the subtle gestures... "Why, did you say that?" intones a voice from my left. I glance back, but cannot answer, it is an awareness of some complexity I only know in my soul, a truth, discovered through pain I can only express with a touch of my own, and that is where the truth calms my soul.

If you are not a painter you cannot understand.

To my right, insistent the entire time, Pollock's "Convergence", 1952.

Jackson Pollock
Convergence, 1952
Oil on Canvas
93 1/2 x 155 in. (237.5 x 393.7 cm)
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.

Inhale, exhale, flicker back to Gotham News, back to Convergence, my emotions drain, I cannot stand the two in succession, I weep openly, defenseless.

How is it that a painting, some inert object, can move me to tears?

This is what makes art "art"

"Convergence" is Pollock in the groove, wresting solid, an image from the chaos. It is the springtime of the field, Pollock is its master.

Between the two, I am lost in a sea of sensation. This is some moment so poignant, so important, I want to burn it into my memory for all time.

I am a painter, I know there is nothing there when you start.

****

It was just the first room. I wanted to write about this exhibition from the perspective of a painter, and to start I wanted to express the emotional experience because this counts more than the theories, or analysis, or auction records, it is the result of some miraculous combination of decisions solidified in the timelessness of these paintings.

The Jewish Museum is free on Saturdays.

Friday, May 09, 2008

China Syndrome

Or how I learned to love the bomb.

Where to start? I was out on the town last night. The Saint Clair Cemin's exhibition was opening at Sikkema Jenkins and I wanted to say hello.

Saint Clair Cemin
Apollo, 2008
Bronze
72.05 x 39.37 x 19.69 inches
183 x 100 x 50 cm

It was a lovely spring evening, and there were a lot of openings, so I took the time a walk around. I made it as far as Pace on 25th Street where I was arrested by the crowd. (Well not exactly arrested, that happened on a previous occasion when I was ticketed for "possession of an open container..." but that's another story.) So Pace, what can I say?

The data transmission must have gone something like this.
?? ??,????
????? ?? ????? ????
Please to send 12 gross large teddy bear in brown color, item ????,???
???? ??????

So they did, but things got a little mixed up in the translation.

Zhang Huan
Giant No. 3, 2008

Ok, I'm sure I don't get it, but this teddy bear is the white elephant of the 2008 season, out-gauching even Piotr Uklańsk's recent effort at Gagosian It's BIG, as BIG as the gallery, HUGE, right up to the ceiling sprawled out in a corner, giving me visions of Josef Virek, as slumped jelly floating in his vat in Stockholm, only fuzzier. [1]

Did I say it was BIG? Well it was, a BIG lumpy form covered in a patchwork of hides, attached with nasty looking 3 inch fasteners that looked like staples. But it was BIG, looking like a teddy bear with a patchwork-leather-ghetto-pimp-disco outfit. Ok, so it was BIG. What's next?

In the adjacent room, Pace and Huan get down to business, after all, this extravaganza of excess must be paid for, right? After all, art is not leisure, right? [2] Anyhow, in the next room, there were several examples from Huan's series "Memory Doors" These pieces are exquisitely crafted, representational relief carvings made on old door slabs. When I say exquisitely crafted, I mean just that, the carving is amazing, grass or a tangle of branches reproduced in exquisite detail. These objects are visual puns, with deep perspective space and maintain ancient traditions of carved furniture. I missed the smell of aromatic cedar which was one of my fondest memories from childhood visits to the Chinese Antique stores in LA. While I found these pieces fascinating to look at, they were not satisfying after my initial viewing, I'm sure there is a joke in there somewhere, I'll let it pass.

Ok, so that's it, right? head out the door for the next gallery? Oh nooo, I hadn't noticed on the way in, maybe I was too early, but when I walked out the door, the whole fleet of Manhattan Pedicabs, replete with "Zhang Huan at Pace" advertising, were lined up out front like rickshaws in Shanghai, ready to ferry us to the 22nd street gallery. Whee! I walked, taking the time to let my stomach settle and for the painkillers to kick in. Off to 22nd street to see Saint Clair Cemin's exhibit, and the rest of what I was now realizing was the Chinese full court press of Zhang Huan and Pace.

Walking west, towards the setting sun on 22nd street, from a distance I spot two green and white striped circus tents, covering the whole sidewalk the entire width of the Pace space. In retrospect this may have been nothing more than a rain defense but it certainly added to the festivity, I was positively giddy by the time I was within striking distance. I noticed they were serving bottled water, lots of it, from the Yangtze river? No, but there was lots of it, rows and rows and rows of plastic bottles.

As I approached the gallery entrance, I had to wind my way between the poles supporting the tent, and the stanchions holding the black velvet rope which funneled an endless queue of visitors into the gallery. People undressed and left their coats with a coat check person, and entered the gallery queue to climb up onto the viewing ramp 20 feet above the gallery floor. I didn't, I'm afraid of heights, the painkillers hadn't kicked in and my knees hurt, so I just took in the ground floor tour. You couldn't see much, what felt like a metaphoric version of the great wall of China hiding everything, mondo scaffolding supporting the viewing platform, and a very elaborate rolling bridge which allowed the beautiful assistant to work on whatever it was I couldn't see behind the wall.

If I may digress for a moment and compare this installation extravaganza to the mechanics of an ink jet printer. An ink jet printer has three primary parts, a printhead, a carriage for moving the printhead, and a method of moving the paper. Huan's installation consisted of three parts as well. A long track, on both sides of the wall which allowed the gantry to move along the lengthwise dimension instead of the paper (well whatever it was down there, hidden from me) A gantry, which is like a bridge which allowed the print head to move back and forth across the width of the paper. Seated on the moving platform on the gantry was the printhead, the beautiful assistant who was consulting a photograpn, selecting the proper shade of temple incense ash with a delicate looking scoop, precisely dropping the spray of ash onto the image, forming one more of the thousands of fuzzy tonal dots which visually coalesce into the image. There were two examples, around the corner a skull which I liked and some MIG 15's on multiple panels which I thought were less successful.

With all the ash around, the fire department eventually came rolling down 22nd streets, flashing lights ablaze, and sirens blaring, I think it was a false alarm but by then, after having looked at Saint Clair's surrealist sculptures and talking with a few people in the gallery, I was out in front of Sikkema Jenkins not smoking a cigarette after sex, but wishing I was. I didn't bother to go see what really happened.

The sun went down, and I started walking east towards the 23 street E train. Waiting with me on the platform was a gentleman I had seen in the gallery and we spoke a bit until the train came. Sitting on the plastic bench seat of the E train we continued our conversation and eventually I asked him his name, "David Diao" he replied. To understand the serendipity in all this Catherine Spaeth's blog has a nice piece on David's paintings which I commented on. We looked at each other in surprise and thought "it's a small world"

Finally, to leave you, the reader with an image which sums up the last few years in the art world. Recall a few auctions ago, the swarthy "mystery man," frantically waving his paddle from the back of the auction room, indicating he was willing to spend over one hundred million dollars for a Picasso. Something changed that day in the art world, greed took on a new dimension.

[1] See, William Gibson, "Count Zero"
[2] Julian Schnabel, "Art is not leisure; art is a utilitarian thing that people can use to find a way into their interior life." :-)

Labels:

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Thomas Nozkowski at Pace

Recent Work - April 4, 2008 - May 3, 2008

Awhile back I stumbled upon a small group of Thomas Nozkowski's paintings on paper and was impressed by their inventiveness and visual variety. His current exhibition of paintings on canvas and paper at Pace continues the investigation I saw in the earlier works.

Nozkowski's paintings are abstractions in the classical meaning of the word. They appear to have come into being through a process of idiosyncratic observation. The key word is 'observation,' Nozkowski pays attention to how things appear in the world, not just their raw appearance or linguistic identity but how the bits and pieces, the visual clues, give shape to form and imbue it with identity, hence meaning.

Thomas Nozkowski
Untitled (8-108), 2008
oil on linen on panel
22" x 28" (55.9 cm x 71.1 cm)
How something looks, how a painting appears, is a result of a number of visual clues which the viewer attempts to identify as an understandable image. An understandable image can mimic the appearance of something in the outside world or be totally self contained. Thomas Nozkowski's paintings do both, they elicit associations within the real world of objects at a symbolic level. They also reveal the internal logic of their own making.

Thomas Nozkowski
Untitled (8-93), 2007
oil on linen on panel
22" x 28" (55.9 cm x 71.1 cm)
In the Untitled work above, there is a loopy brownish-red line which anchors the painting. This simple form, or trajectory, creates the picture, other pictorial elements are attached to it, contained by it, or generated by it through repetition or mirroring. It controls the space, as inside or outside, figure or ground, or just as a mark on the surface. The little geometric bits and pieces, can allude to decoration on a surface, creating a fleeting focus or identity as 'something,' the edge of a piece of crockery or plate, or not, depending on the viewer.

Thomas Nozkowski
Untitled (8-103), 2008
oil on linen on panel
22" x 28" (55.9 cm x 71.1 cm)
One of the qualities that impressed ma about Nozkowski's paintings is the broad vocabulary of pictorial methods he employs. As a group, his paintings have an identity but this identity is generated by a personal vision and not the result of a pictorial strategy or program. Within the body of work exhibited there is considerable variation form one painting to another in how they are executed, stylistic decisions serve to enforce and enhance the paintings content rather than just serve to establish a brand identity.

Thomas Nozkowski
Untitled (P38), 2008
oil on paper
22" x 30" (55.9 cm x 76.2 cm)
Looka like a cow to me, maybe a quilt...

I saw Tom's show a couple of weeks ago with a friend who is also a painter, we both thought it was the most memorable exhibition we had seen that day.

More images: Thomas Nozkowski - Pace

Friday, May 02, 2008

Tingley

Jean Tingley
Unknown Title, 1960's?

I was just wandering through the Met and this Tingley sculpture caught my eye. I didn't write down any of the details and strangely, the Metropolitan doesn't give any via the web search. Odd. Whatever, it's a really nice piece, the precursor of a lot of later explorations in this direction.

My first studio was across the street from a mom and pop junk store. This owners were really a couple of dyed in the wool packrats, their 'lot' was roughly 100 x100 feet and packed ten feet high with every sort of imaginable (and unimaginable) junk, old bedposts, broken furniture, car parts, you name it they had it, somewhere back there, pointing. Tingley would have had a field day.

The Persistence of Johns

Note: the exhibition, Jasper Johns: Gray at the Metropolitan Museum of Art closes this Sunday May 4th.

"The exhibition examines the use of the color gray by the American artist Jasper Johns (b. 1930) between the mid-1950s and the present. It brings together more than 120 paintings, reliefs, drawings, prints, and sculptures from American and international collections." [Met PR]

Two exhibitions I've seen recently, the De Kooning's at the Larry Gagosian Gallery and the Jasper Johns, "Gray" exhibition currently at the Met, have impressed upon me a sense of the personal core of these two artists work.

With DeKooning it was an appreciation of his personal sense of line, a line which flows through the arm to the tip of the brush, a fluid response to muscle decision, a broad sweep from the shoulder, or just a whip from the wrist. The works in the exhibition covered a period from the mid forties to the end of his career. What I came to appreciate was how this sense of line was the backbone of the work throughout his career, not just in the high period of the fifties but in the periods which followed as well. Regardless of the stylistic changes that occurred as his career progressed, this sense of line held it together. I ended up feeling that his later paintings hold up better than many would suggest.

I have always been receptive to the physicalness of Jasper Johns works, the objectness of his paintings and density of marking in his drawings. Iconographically his paintings are generally based upon the simplest of assumptions, a flag, a map, a word, letters or numbers, all taken somewhat literally and put into the service of a painting. One can approach his works from a conceptual viewpoint, but while this is somewhat interesting, there is not really much there. His basic motifs are easy to grasp and I would suggest they are not at the core of what makes his works so important.

After walking through the exhibition a couple of times what truly struck me was the persistence of Johns. This is a quality which underlies all his works over the last fifty years. It is a persistence of will, of the intention to make the painting or drawing physically present in the world.

It has been awhile since I have seen the small painting on paper, "Liar." It has a simple motif, a gray square with the word 'LIAR' centered at the top, flipped up above it is the word LIAR in reverse, as a printing block or stamp. It's all very simple, a nice play on words, liar, lair, and rail. (upside-down and backwards) I could run off a stream of associations ending in caboose, but none of them would make this work as convincing as I feel it is. I picked this particular piece to start because I feel it reveals the conundrum in Johns' work, that the conceptual is the lair for the work, the scaffolding or foundation which Jasper Johns utilizes as a structure for his persistence of vision which ultimately allows him to manifest and see the work for what it is, itself and nothing else.

Everything in "Liar," from the choice of paper, the stains, pencil marks, relief and gray encaustic, build up to a finality which is "Liar," the physical result of the vision and activity of Jasper Johns at a particular place and moment in time. Now I realize that one might say I could say the same thing about any artwork, but this is not the case. There is something else which comes across to us in Johns' work and I think it is our ability to sense his 'persistence,' a desire to take the work to an ontological state, it exists as what it is and is complete. Wholeness. This is particularly difficult to do, for it is not always clear what the final state should be in order to transmit this sense of completeness, Johns works persistently towards this point, successfully or not. It is the sense of this persistence of the quest, which I feel is the true content of his works.

Jasper Johns
Liar, 1961
Encaustic, Sculp-metal, and graphite on cream wove paper;
21 1/4 x 17 in. (54 x 43.2 cm)
Collection Gail and Tony Ganz, Los Angeles

I had not seen the painting "Within" before, I snapped the photo of it shown below. At first I took it to be another variation on the flagstone motif paintings until I noticed it was painted over a cross hatch motif form an earlier period. After the fact I discovered the painting is dated 1983-2005 and I assume it sat around in his studio unfinished for several years, its final state morphing with age, drawn by a fleeting but persistent pressure towards what is finalized here.

Jasper Johns
Within, 1983 & 2005
Oil on canvas and wood with objects
101 1/2 x 72 x 3 in.
Collection of the artist

While the premise of this exhibition is 'Gray,' most of the included works are executed in primarily gray, I have never thought of Jasper Johns' works as colorless, even the gray ones. The gray colors, hues which are desaturated revealing themselves only by close proximity comparison, allow other aspects of the works to come forward, the drawing, elaborate surfaces, brush marks and a sense of luminosity or, as the case may be, the sense looking into lightsink of darkness. "Between the clock and the bed" is one of the paintings from a series based upon a crosshatch motif. The physical presence of these paintings varies based upon the approach taken. In some of the paintings utilizing this motif, the image sits on the surface, as a pattern of marks, as they do in "Corpse and Mirror".

Jasper Johns
Corpse and Mirror, 1974
oil and mixed media on canvas
50 x 68 in.

In others, like "Between the Clock and the Bed" the tonalities of the grays become luminous, as if the painting was illuminated from behind, and glowing through the patchwork of map makers marks. These are not paintings which occurred from an idea, a conceptualization or impulse which lasted for much longer than deciding where to start. Ultimately Jasper Johns' work is about the persistence of vision, about looking, seeing, responding, painting, and looking some more until what he sees is, what is.

Jasper Johns
Between the Clock and the Bed, 1982-83
Encaustic on canvas (three panels
72 x 126 1/4 in.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond

An absolutely great exhibition.

Links:
Roberta Smith at the NY Times

Labels: ,