January 31, 2016

Affinities: Galeria Miguel Marcos


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January 26, 2016


I awoke this morning with an insistent question: what's the big deal?

So, what is the big deal? A multitude of artists have crossed over from painting to sculpture in the history of art. What's so special about this show at Hionas Gallery "painting sculpturally / sculpt painterly"?
As I was making coffee, I turned it over in my mind. Did I answer it well enough in my last blogpost? Probably not, if I'm still ruminating over it a week later.

Painting was declared dead. In art historical terms, this was done with immense critical authority, over several decades. Painting resumed in the 90's after the cresting of critical theory, a collapsing stock bubble and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, but it did so by sidestepping the proscription against painting. My response was to demonstrate the life in painting. I did it with the body of the medium and in particular, I externalized the internal dynamics of forces within it. My movement into the realm of sculpture was done with this in mind. This is why I wrote about the use of painting as a lens to see how the animated physicality of paint could stand up in a sculptural realm.

I tender the following idea with the utmost care since it may appear as a critique and challenge to my fellow artists and especially the painters among them. I do not do this with bad intent. I merely want to raise an especially difficult question that should have been dealt with long ago. If an artist ignores the claim about the death of painting and resumes anyway, he/she is by degrees either blithe or disdainful (or both) of this particular art historical argument. If an artist respects what was discovered and established in the Postmodern era (*1) that brought about the idea that painting could die, that artist would take the argument head on and counter it with an alternative. But to skirt the prohibition deprives us of the energy that all art movements in the history of art has depended on to fuel the justification of each subsequent epoch. Every chapter of art history has realized that the previous era was exhausted and adjusted themselves to this reality in critique and formation of a new set of ideas to move forward with. We didn't do this in the 90's. The funeral rites were sung in the duration of the Postmodern era and the death of painting drafted with it in its wake, the end of art history. There was a sense in that era that we had come to the end of history, that nothing subsequent was possible, that Postmodernism was beyond critique. In this sense, painting remained dead in its resumption after the "end of painting"... painting was by and large, the walking dead. In this light, it is really surprising that the moniker "Zombie Art" has gained so much traction in recent years? Is it really surprising that there is a widespread sense of torpor and lassitude in art today?

*1 For a very long time, it has not been popular in art social circles to mention Postmodernism by name. The mere introduction of the term tends to sour conversation. I think that this is because it is a difficult to define, perhaps because we are too close to it, that we live within it so completely like the proverbial fish in water. Another reason is that Postmodernism itself tends toward the eschatological, that it conceives itself as a final destination of art history. To test this assertion, ask yourself: is another epoch of art history possible?

I can define it.

Here it is:
-You can't define Postmodernism without defining Modernism.
-To be modern is to reconcile the life you are living with the things you are making.
-The Modern and Postmodern were born as twins at the collapse of the Classical era.
-The Modern immediately took preeminence and afterwards so did the Postmodern.
-To be Modern is to attempt to touch G-d with material means.
-When Modernism approached exhaustion, postmodernism flipped the formulation...
-To be Postmodern is to point to everyday life with conceptual means.
-Postmodernism progressed from Pop to Minimalism to Conceptualism to Critical Theory in an ever widening stream like a river born in the mountains and dying in the delta at sea.
-The next chapter of art history requires a similar synthesis and reversal of polarity that the preceding eras employed.

Posted by Dennis at 1:39 PM | Comments (0)

January 18, 2016

The Meme Search

My exhibition at Hionas Gallery this January in NYC tenders the proposition that painting can be thought in sculptural terms and sculpture in painterly terms. I was careful to say that the sculptural pieces in the show only knock on the door politely of the world of sculpture, that I cannot yet wrap myself in the mantle of this medium since I have as yet only produced a small handful examples of it. Indeed, I see the sculptural work in the gallery as a lens to see what I have focused on in my painting. I have in effect exploited what I consider a hither-to forgotten aspect of painting's "pull down menu", painting with the body of paint on par with other well known aspects such as color, line and tonality. Why do I think the embodiment of paint has been forgotten? Together with the spread of the meme of the "death of painting" in the previous era, painting had also subordinated itself to a flattening towards an incorporeal "pure" visuality. You can blame Greenberg. You can blame the conceptual imperative. But it happened nonetheless. It had an immense, if not forlorn, perhaps even a zombie-like impact. I feel that to make art today, one has to push back against this.

I would be less than honest if I didn't admit that I hope that this show could launch a new meme. (After all, temerity is an occupational hazard for an artist.) Every art exhibition is to some extent an argument in proposition. I want to use the aspect of sculpture to illuminate painting and I naturally I want the thought to go viral. The brainstorming is in progress. You can choose a name that appeals to you:

Meat and Mass(prompted by Jaccie Saccoccio's comment in a recent ArtSpace article), Phat Painting, Fleshy Art, Animist Art, Negentropic Art (I touched upon this in a recent blogpost Ps: "My natural ardor for painting doubled down in graduate school when I was informed that painting was dead and to persist with it was folly. So I rebelliously embraced affirmation and sought to evoke the life within paint")...

None so far have rung my bell, so my meme search continues.

When a prominent critic in the NYC art world tentatively suggested on the occasion of a visit to my show that "sculpture is the new painting" (I'm withholding the attribution since he has yet to fully commit to this formulation), I was elated to know that I wasn't alone. Evidently, the idea is floating in the ether. Alternatively, I have seen a couple of pings in social media in a skeptical response to the suggestion that sculpture is the new painting. Fair enough. We should be cautious about meme formation. These people say that this has been done before in the work of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Stella. A list like this could be large, but only because its address is not as narrow as the precise spot on which I am trying to focus. Let's take a closer look at these two artists in terms of sculpture illuminating painting, and let's add Robert Ryman to this short list if only just because I want to.

Rauschenberg's famous Combines slewed between painting and sculpture. He was working in the thrall of the new license that gave access to a whole multitude of media that sprang from the transition of modernism to postmodernism. By my formulation, the former tried to touch G-d through material means and the latter flipped the imperative. They instead pointed to everyday life via conceptual means. Sol LeWitt was the first to pluck the fruit of the postmodern tree (pure conceptuality, art as a set of instructions), but Rauschenberg was famously preoccupied with exercising the newfound freedom to romp through the multitude of media that proliferated in his era. Freedom of movement was Rauschenberg's priority. My priority is the lensing of the medium of sculpture onto painting.

Frank Stella wrote a famous book announcing his manifesto about Working Space. He championed pictorial space in order to rejuvenate what he saw (in the mid-80's) as abstraction gone moribund. Personally, I found his idea hard to take to heart. If illusionistic space is the glory of painting -evidently he thought that abstraction had flattened space and brought about a dead end- then making it literal in three dimensional physical space removes it from the special limitations of the two dimensions that gave illusionistic space its charge in the first place. To be sure, I found his current survey at the new Whitney museum to be wonderful and inspiring, but not because of his famous thesis. If Stella attempted to use sculpture as a lens to see painting, one could say that he ground painting into dust in the process. His most recent artwork especially shows that he has emerged completely shorn of painting into the sculptor's realm.

I however, am less enamored with pictorial illusion as the prime definition of painting*. Instead, I settle on two aspects that I think encompass the medium: distinctions drawn and distinctions blurred. Painting can be seen as an outgrowth of drawing. I recall now all of the paintings throughout the ages where one can still see the pencil lines between pools of color. Paintings can begin with drawing or they can result in drawing but finally drawing is inscribed both literally and figuratively in painting. Paint is also liquid. It flows. Paint oozes, floods, drips, streams, pours, dribbles, scumbles, glides across distinctions drawn. Painting is fundamentally marked by the property of fluids. Fluidity is wild. Floods and waves are a form of power. Like the tides, only forces as powerful and present as a moon can master the motion of fluids. Facture is a word that is defined by the quality of paint handling. I am asserting that this quality can be charted by distinctions drawn and blurred.

When I think of Robert Ryman's work, I think of exploded axonometrics. A term common in architectural contexts, the exploded axon is a method of making clear the component parts of a complicated object. Ryman famously made all of the component parts of a painting eligible for aesthetic disposition, from paint-qua-paint on the surface to all of the elements of the support behind, and even to the method of mounting all of this to a wall. Like Stella, Ryman has a survey exhibition up currently in NYC this season, at the DIA Art Foundation, Chelsea. What I see in this show is how Ryman has settled over the years more on paint-qua-paint and less on painting as an exploded axonometric. I am compelled to note parenthetically that for me his axon paintings tend to recall Donald Judd's work and so I wonder about the nature of any cross influences. For the segment of his oeuvre that treats all components of a painting, through the parts of the support, down to the brackets on the wall... there is little of the ooze and flow to these elements that are natural to paint that he has taken the liberty to exploit. All components keep their place in all arrangements: brackets stay on the wall and don't appear to rival or displace the daubs of paint on the surface of his constructions. Supports still support but only support. Every component serves paint-qua-paint and there are no trading places. So it was no surprise to see that he had arrived at what is obviously an overriding concern. The accompanying catalog notes that he considered that the color white encompassed all color, and so his facture stays focused on the one color which for him was all color. The singularity of his ambition is not at all like the duality of lensing that I have mentioned above. Not at all.

I have yet to come up with a list of contemporary artists who are similarly focused on the life and embodiment of painting. Part of the reason is that no one likes to be drafted into a meme crusade, and I don't want to step on toes. There are others out there, to be sure. If the meme grows, it must do so naturally, unforced, animated and lively on its own terms.

* To elaborate, I place pictorial illusion -figuration as well as spatialization- in a continuum with abstraction. I wrote about this here, here,, and here.

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January 15, 2016

James Kalm's Roughcut: 2016 Kick Off The Lower East Side, Williamsburg, Bushwick

Loren Munk, aka James Kalm takes a look at my opening, Pierogi and Sharon Butler's show at Theodore Art.

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January 11, 2016

Paint / sculpturally


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January 6, 2016


In preparation for my upcoming show at Hionas Gallery in New York's Lower East Side that will open this Friday, I wrote up a short statement as preparatory material to assist the gallery in its' subsequent work. Here it is:

A medium can be it's own subject when it is also a metaphor for a multitude of subjects in the world. For example, in the Spanish language, one could compliment a friend like so, "te pinta bien". That would mean that they look good to you. I like how the expression in Castilian Spanish of how the world appears uses painting as a vehicle of rendering. In another example, the interaction of solvent and binder in paint involves a dynamic interaction of opposing forces, not unlike a whole range of issues in the world from politics to sex and beyond. Another example, in this case, my own coinage: "paint dries, life ends", and from this I take inspiration from the limits of alla prima painting to make hay while you can. Another example: the refinement of pigments used in paint is an example of negentropy, an increase in order in the world. The act of painting hazards entropy, an increase of disorder in the world as colors blend towards mud. A successful painting redeems and magnifies negentropy.

My natural ardor for painting doubled down in graduate school when I was informed that painting was dead and to persist with it was folly. So I rebelliously embraced affirmation and sought to evoke the life within paint. Over the years my use of impasto became more and more agitated in animation. As such, I encouraged the natural corporeality of paint to the point where it seemed as if it could levitate off the canvas. It was at that point when I alighted on the small vitrines that I had initially found in a Chinatown curio shop and began to fill them with wood armatures that supported dabs, tongues and urchin-monads of paint.

After twenty five years of painting in earnest, after hundreds of paintings straining to the thousand, I feel very confident in calling myself a painter with a capital P. After making around twenty or so sculptures thus far in my life, I don't yet have the temerity to call myself a sculptor with a capital "S". So I here submit that the majority of the artwork in this show could be denominated sculpture in lower case letters and painting capitalized yet in the position of a numerator. And so an equation is born.


To be sure, I have noted the acute transition from painting to sculpture in the making of these objects, especially the larger ones. One of my first inklings sparked when I realized how the lighting at night in my studio was insufficient for three dimensions when it was quite adequate for painting on a flat canvas. I noticed how I was constantly moving around the piece, not like the sliding station point I had always used to regard paintings. I became aware that I was constantly arm deep in the medium, more often now than ever in the past had I soiled my sleeves and jacket with art material, not so much with painting. All of this marks a beginning but only an initial start.

Often in the making I found myself thinking of these sculptures in painting's terms. After all, I used the same materials in fabricating armatures as in building the panels used to stretch canvas for paintings. Wood, glue and screws. I considered that now, figuration began with the shaping of the armature, not like the usually assumed neutrality of painting's support. One could say that I was sculpting the armature of wood, but since I was anticipating the movement of paint to come in the shaping, one could also say that I was "painting" with wood instead. As the possible flatness formerly fit for painting shank dramatically with the new surface areas of the armatures, I became aware that I lost my usual bag of tricks typical to painting, I had to start from scratch. My attitude to these pieces are entirely that of a painter, and all my surprises are coming from the sculptor's wheel house. Maybe it's the architect in me (my first degree and formal introduction to art), with the "nature of materials" instinct that architects naturally have, that I would be so inclined to paint sculpturally... and now to sculpt painterly.
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Opening Tonight: "The Future is Ow" (Mark Flood is Awesome)

The Future is Ow
Susie Rosmarin
El Franco Lee II
Paul Kremer
Mark Flood
Chris Bexar
Marlborough Gallery (Chelsea)
25 street: 545 W 25 street

Front and end snips from the Press Release:

All the artists in The Future is Ow currently live and work in Houston. All were part of the experimental gallery Mark Flood Resents. This gallery had a series of shows, in Chelsea and Miami Beach, that showed NFS art from Mark Flood's personal collection. El Franco Lee had a solo show, Susie Rosmarin was part of the show Irrational Women, and Paul Kremer and Chris Bexar were featured in the show Emotionally Unavailable Men. Mark Flood wrote the press releases and paid the rent. The Future is Ow concerns the fact that all these artists make digitally printed paintings as part of their practice. The Future is Ow title is irrational, but it might be about people saying Ow! when they don't get to look at their precious brushstrokes anymore.

...The exhibition also includes a video by Mark Flood,created in 2012 in NYC, in which Adam Rodriguez
reads Flood's poem White Cube. The content of the poem is relevant to the design of the exhibition....

The Future Is Ow Exhibition Design
The Future is Ow makes an attempt to extend and distort the usual white cube gallery exhibit strategy. Of course, rejecting the white cube is itself a cliche. Everybody hates the white cube, but let's review why. It's because it makes the art world look like a lab where disinterested scientists with no issues are looking at a sterilized specimen. Because it makes art look like one more item on an endless schedule of items. Because it drains the meaning out of the art by creating an atmosphere of Nothing really matters here because authority figures have already figured everything out. Etc. For further information see the White Cube poem/video. Even though the show title mentions The Future, I decided not to try to make Marlborough Chelsea into some futuristic movie set because... Why bother? I evoke the Future more as an improvised refugee center with a lot of crummy furniture and TVs for people to watch so they don't get too restless. That sounds a lot like how the Mark Flood Resents gallery was set up, so I include some of the black plastic lattices that gallery used. They control light and visual access.

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January 4, 2016

Opening Soon


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