Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stuart Semple at Anna Kustera

"Everlasting Nothing Less" an exhibition of paintings and sculpture by the young British artist Stuart Semple is on view at the Anna Kustera Gallery, 520 W. 21st Street, NYC, from May 16 through July 31, 2009 (extended date)

I first ran across Stuart Semple's paintings in a 2007 group exhibition "The Black Market." The earlier paintings attracted my attention for their graphic styling and skillful paint handling. Semple is a multifaceted entrepreneurial artists working in several venues, but in order to keep things simple I am only going to address the paintings.

Semple's paintings do possess certain stylistic affinities with the artists of 20th Century Pop, Warhol and Koons have been suggested by some. However the essence of his approach is significantly different from his historical antecedents.

Pop Art in the last century came at the tail end of the Modernist Era (Modernism, including Postmodernism) Viewed from a functional point of view, Pop Art was a methodology which reintroduced the representational image back into advanced painting, the old avant guard.

In this process, the Pop artists utilized images from the culture in the same way they might have used nature, as a still life, rendering them as iconic. The crossover influences of formalism are evident, in particular in certain paintings by Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rosenquist.

While still present by insinuation, narrative was downplayed in favor of a formalist or iconic approach with a ample dash of irony thrown in to fend off the Avant Guard and Kitsch [1] [2] crowd with their elitist ideas that Art belonged solely to the upper class. It is ironic that Pop Art became the most widely popular style of art in the 20th Century.

Today, a young artist looking back upon the early years of Pop Art, might realize the process is similar to the Pop artists looking back at the start of Cubism, it seems so near, yet so far away. The cultural context is continuously changing and Pop Art no longer can exist in the way it did 40 years ago, our acceptance of the cultural image has become commonplace.

21st Century Pop

In todays world, advertising has lost the fascination it may have had in the middle decades of the last century. We are overstimulated by an exponential increase of media images to the extent that we now may find them repulsive, or at least the target of our criticism.

Yet, what Greenberg labeled as Kitsch:
"popular, commercial art and literature with their chromeotypes, magazine covers, illustrations, ads, slick and pulp fiction, comics, Tin Pan Alley music, tap dancing, Hollywood movies, etc., etc."
describing it as
"a product of the industrial revolution which urbanized the masses of Western Europe and America and established what is called universal literacy."
is rapidly becoming the source for a new mythology. A mythology transmitted through the technological media rather than an through an oral tradition as the information revolution puts an end to Modernism and the industrial age.

Irony is a device artists can use to introduce elements, symbols or ideas into an artwork without taking direct responsibility. A slight of hand. This is not a value judgment but an observation of the process.

In his work Stuart Semple utilizes Pop styling, the familiar connection with commercial imagery but without the irony. It's not that there are no bits of recursive visual humor, like the hand painted emulation of the printing process, but overall, I had the sense that Semple takes responsibility for his images, their juxtaposition and their virtual narrative.

Also characteristic of 21st Century Pop, Semple uses commercial imagery without celebrating the subject nor reducing it to just another layer of imagistic texture like the painter Albert Oehlen.

The media references, visually or as subject matter, act metaphorically allowing the viewer a point of entry into the painting without necessary knowledge of the artists private world. It is a form of enabling, similar for example, to ones ability to locate costume in time, we accept this knowledge and move deeper into the metaphor.

Semple's stylistic choices, his use of media references and styling, help to locate his paintings in the near present. With hints of film noir his paintings present a contextual experience which moves the viewer beyond the purely visual into the more literary realms of psychological associations and memory. No painting is complete in itself, it needs a viewer to close the circle of experience.

I've looked at a lot of paintings by young artists over the last month or so, most are competent cookie cutter variations of the current painterly zeitgeist. I felt Stuart Semple's exhibition was an exception. While I personally favored some paintings over others the overall direction his work is taking is fresh and interesting. It bears watching and is collectible.

Stuart Semple
For The Broken, 2009
Acrylic, charcoal and vinyl on canvas
47.25 x 47.25 x 2.75

Stuart Semple
Do you want to know... know it doesn't hurt me?, 2009
Acrylic, charcoal, chalk, spray paint and paintmarker on canvas
67 x 94.5 x 2.75 inches

Stuart Semple
Wanted To Believe In Something, 2008-2009
Acrylic, charcoal, chalk, household gloss and sanguine oil on canvas
47.25 x 47.25 x 2.75

Stuart Semple
Angelus, 2009
Acrylic, charcoal, chalk, graphite, vinyl. and paintmarker on canvas
67 x 94.5 x 2.75 inches

Stuart Semple
Everybody Sees You're Blown Apart, 2009
Acrylic, vinyl, charcoal, chalk and paintmarker on canvas
86.5 x 86.5 x 2.75 inches

Stuart Semple
Ding Dong (Maggie's Dead), 2009
Mdf, plastic, gloss paint, leather and electronics on aluminum
65 x 83 x 47 inches (overall dimensions)

Earlier works from "The Black Market" exhibition" at Anna Kustera Gallery in the summer of 2007.

Stuart Semple
Kurt Lied, 2007
Mixed media on canvas
47 x 35 x 3 inches

Stuart Semple
Sacharine, 2007
Mixed media on canvas
47 x 35 x 3 inches

All photo's ©Stuart Semple.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Andy Warhol at Ferus Gallery 1962

It was a hot LA day in July of 1962, when by chance I found myself at the Ferus Gallery and saw my first ever exhibition of POP Art, the Andy Warhol Soup Cans. It was a long time ago but my reaction was something along the lines of "wow these are cool." I took home the little letter-sized poster announcing the show.

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)
Campbell's Soup Cans, 1962
Synthetic polymer paint on thirty-two canvases,
Each canvas 20 x 16" (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Collection: Museum of Modern Art, NYC
Gift of Irving Blum
© 2009 Andy Warhol Foundation / ARS
In the years that followed much has been written about Andy Warhol and his artworks. In this process, theory gets piled upon theory, stories become embellished, and eventually the history becomes a cultural myth that each era will interpret in their own way.

The other day, again by chance, I came across a copy of the Henry Hopkins review of the exhibition, as originally published in the September 1962 issue of Artforum.
Andy Warhol, Ferus Gallery: To those of us who grew up during the cream-colored thirties with “Big-Little Books,” “Comic Books,” and a “Johnson and Smith Catalogue” as constant companions; when “good, hot soup” sustained us between digging caves in the vacant lot and having “clod” fights without fear of being tabbed as juvenile delinquents; when the Campbell Soup Kids romped gaily in four colors on the overleaf from the Post Script page in The Saturday Evening Post, this show has peculiar significance.

Though, as many have said, it may make a neat, negative point about standardization it also has a positive point to make. To a tenderloin oriented society it is a nostalgic call for a return to nature.

Warhol obviously doesn’t want to give us much to cling to in the way of sweet handling, preferring instead the hard commercial surface of his philosophical cronies. But then house fetishes rarely compete with Rembrandt in esthetic significance. However, based on formal arrangements, intellectual and emotional response, one finds favorites. Mine is Onion.

--Henry T. Hopkins, © Artforum, September 1962, vol. 1, n. 4
As I read Mr. Hopkins rambling first sentence, it resurrected memories, from my childhood, which reveal something we generally forget when looking back on historical moments. It was a time before the JFK assassination when in spite of our nuclear fears most Americans were optimistic about the future. "Progress" still seemed like a real possibility along with owning your own home, a new car and a television set.

To me, digging caves in the vacant lot and having “clod” fights... is something right out of my childhood. In those years, there were "vacant lots," urban sprawl hadn't quite caught up to empty space. Comic Books, LIFE Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, black and white television with 'live' commercials, all were part of the cultural environment of this time. These were part of the visual culture of that era and in our fascination with the new medium of television and four color photographic printing, advertising and commercials were no where as nearly as intrusive as we find them today.

In the this context of postwar optimism, a decision by artists like Warhol or Lichtenstein to dip into the culture of commercial imagery was made because they liked the subjects, we thought they were "cool" (might have been "hip").

Whatever "irony" existed was taken with a humorous stance born out of appreciation of the subject matter. Somehow in the years that followed this viewpoint was lost as part of the critical community, fearing that "kitsch" would somehow debase "fine art," polarized the situation and the ironic stance lost its humor and became a cultural weapon of its own.

Regardless, it is apparent that despite the protestations to the contrary, that POP Art has entered into the culture in a significant way, influencing artists as much today as it did forty years ago. It is also no surprise that the wider public still views POP Art with interest. I think because it speaks with them in a familiar language.

Further reading: Henry T. Hopkins artical looking back on the early years.

Francis Bacon at the Met

Absolutely stunning. A must see exhibition

Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
May 20, 2009–August 16, 2009
Special Exhibition Galleries, 2nd floor

Additional pictures are on the Met website linked above.
Francis Bacon (British, 1909–1992)
Study after Velazquez, 1950
Oil on canvas;
77 15/16 x 54 in. (198 x 137.2 cm)
The Steven and Alexandra Cohen Collection
© 2009 The Estate of Francis Bacon / ARS, New York / DACS, London

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Sigmar Polke at Michael Werner

New paintings by Sigmar Polke at Michael Werner Gallery, from May 6 through June 19, 2009. The gallery is located at 4 East 77th Street, NYC.

The reproductions don't do these paintings justice. It is an impressive exhibition.

Sigmar Polke
The Illusionist (Lens Painting)
mixed media on fabric
86 1/2 x 118 inches, 220 x 300 cm
POL 317

Sigmar Polke
Upgrade (Lens Painting)
mixed media on fabric
31 1/2 x 39 1/4 inches, 80 x 100 cm
POL 304

Sigmar Polke
Over the Rainbow (Lens Painting)
mixed media on fabric
54 1/4 x 46 1/4 inches, 138 x 117.5 cm
POL 322

Sigmar Polke
Untitled (Lens Painting)
mixed media on fabric
39 1/4 x 27 1/2 inches, 100 x 70 cm
POL 341

Sigmar Polke
Untitled (Lens Painting)
mixed media on fabric
35 1/2 x 27 1/2 inches, 90 x 70 cm
POL 335

Sigmar Polke
The Miracle of Siegen (Lens Painting)
mixed media on fabric
78 3/4 x 63 inches, 200 x 160 cm
POL 310

Sigmar Polke
Untitled (Lens Painting)
mixed media on fabric
74 3/4 x 78 3/4 inches, 190 x 200 cm
POL 316

Alice Neel at Zwirner

Wow! this is a must see exhibition, along with the late Picasso's, the best of the season.

David Zwirner is presenting two concurrent exhibitions of Alice Neel’s work, the first since announcing its representation of her Estate.
• Alice Neel: Selected Works at David Zwirner, at 533 West 19th Street, May 14 through June 20, 2009.
• Alice Neel: Nudes of the 1930s at Zwirner & Wirth, at 32 East 69th Street, May 6 through June 20, 2009

Alice neel is a painter I have always been aware of, but almost entirely through the occasional reproduction here and there. Over the last few years I have rediscovered her work. This occurred the best way possible, accidentally, primarily in group shows, as an answer to the reflexive question "who did that?"

So last week when my painter friend Biff Elrod said to me, "Alice Neel has a knockout show at Zwirner" I took the subway uptown and we went to see it together. He was right, the exhibition of Alice Neel's early works at Zwirner and Wirth (69th Street) were gritty precursors to her later paintings.

A few days later we walked over to Chelsea to see the Picasso's, on the way we stopped by Zwirner (20th Street) only to be surprised with the other half of the exhibition. The element of surprise, stumbling upon an exhibition you didn't expect and finding that it exceeds all of your expectations, well that's really nice.

I'm not going to say a whole lot about these works, I've just seen the exhibition once and I am sure that there are other writers who can fill you in on the details of her life. (There's also a video available, which I haven't seen yet)

What I will say is that these paintings stand above almost all other representational paintings made in the latter part of the twentieth century. They represent the full complexity a pictorial image is able to present, both visually, conceptually and psychologically.

The images below are in chronological order. The 1930 painting Rhoda Myers Nude is at Zwirner and Wirth Gallery uptown, and the rest are at the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea.

Alice Neel
Rhoda Myers Nude
Oil on canvas
29 3/4 x 26 inches, 75.6 x 66 cm
At Zwirner and Wirth Gallery (32 E 69th Street)

The next two were painted during the heart of WWII. Sam and Hartley is a poignant image of the darkness felt in those years.

Alice Neel
Sam, Snow (How like the winter)
Oil on canvas
30 x 24 inches 76.2 x 61 cm

Alice Neel
Sam and Hartley
c. 1945
Oil on canvas
30 x 27 inches 76.2 x 68.6 cm

1950's, the male dominated anti-representational period of Greenberg and the Abstract Expressionists

Alice Neel
Ballet Dancer
Oil on canvas
20 1/8 x 42 1/8 inches 51.1 x 107 cm

Alice Neel
Oil on canvas
32 x 20 1/4 inches 81.3 x 51.4 cm

Alice Neel
Rita and Hubert
Oil on canvas
34 x 40 inches 86.4 x 101.6 cm

Alice Neel
George Arce
Oil on canvas
36 x 25 inches 91.4 x 63.5 cm

1960's, the look in the eyes of Cindy is priceless and her handling of the plaid on the dress is wonderful.

Alice Neel
Oil on canvas
28 x 18 inches 71.1 x 45.7 cm

Alice Neel
Jerry Sokol
Oil on canvas
40 x 28 inches 101.6 x 71.1 cm