Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World, MoMA

A review of “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World,” exhibiting at MoMa, December 14, 2014–April 5, 2015

written by Jeffrey Grunthaner in New York

Comprising only 17 painters—ranging from the youth sensation Oscar Murillo to veterans like Mary Weatherford—MoMA’s The Forever Now aspires to be a hip survey of what’s possible for painting today. In fact, it’s only trendy. If one were to take the exhibition at its word, the internet has radically transformed our lives and the way we reproduce images. Starting from this truism, is it possible that MoMA wants to show us painters without any sense of a historical past? Inveighing for an eternal present where the variegated richness of time perishes into an a-temporal “synchrony,” collapsing the difference between “high” and “low”—none of this is original circa 2015, and doesn’t explain why the bulk of the art in the exhibition alludes to 20th century art and iconography.


Oscar Murillo. 7+. 2013–14  

You linger over the Murillo's as much as the two works by Lauren Owens, mainly on account of their intrinsic powers of display. Kerstin Brätsch torments you as much as she delights; and Michael Williams’s works are anodynes that numb any care for a world on fire. The question is: Why are they here? Lauren Owens certainly uses “new media” in her work, if only allusively. Using traditional materials such as acrylics on gesso, Owens simulates the layered contraction of space specific to digitally generated images. The materials Owens puts to use function like a glass partition, through which she can observe the weirdling movements of digital space in quarantine. But Oscar Murillo's? Not only does Murillo's work lack the image-sourced tenor the show seems to want to convey, but his works are absent of any threat to the art establishment generally. One feels in them the lurking possibility of usurpation—like a bomb mounted to a wall—but ultimately they're cased in glass and thoroughly diffused. (This is especially true for the work situated on the floor.) None of it reflects the overarching idea of the exhibition; nor does it speak from Murillo's own voice, which seems to provoke a human response in viewers, preferencing interactivity over the passive contemplation of spectacle.  
But The Forever Now is not bereft of fascinating work. The artist who best represents the “vast synchronic landscape of information peculiar to our century,” as MoMA words it, is decidedly the German-born post-internet painter Kerstin Brätsch, currently represented by Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in NYC. Brätsch’s largely collaborative practice--like her homage to Sigmar Polke, which  was made in collaboration with someone who had worked with Polke personally--not only disturbs traditional notions of individuated genius (a hard-won status in a digitally interconnected and remorselessly surveilled world), but at the very least suggests, however imperfectly, new compositional strategies for introducing painting into areas of experience normally reserved for sculpture or design.


Kerstin Brätsch. Sigi's Erben (Agate Psychics). 2012

Consider “Sigi's Erben (Agate Psychics)” (2012). Something about the work reminded me of dream I once had about a spider-like network of wires rising from the earth. From the wires hanged mirrors, and people would look into them and see themselves fragmented, confusing their fragmented image for their actual selves. The wire construction itself was called Eternity. “Sigi Erben” develops a similar theme: Brätsch’s network of glass pictures speaks to the fragmentation consequent on visual culture generally, where old notions of a compositional whole are somehow lost. While not exactly impressive, this genre-defying installation does indicate a way out of painting’s need to create illusive space, to develop likenesses to a figure/ground relationship. 

If one considers the gestural brushstroke the defining aspect of modern painting, and likeness to a figure the hallmark of classical modes, “Sigi Erben” exhibits how these aspects have been modified through the adoption of new compositional methods, altered even further by the assimilation of unique materials.
The work not only alludes to Sigmar Polke, but renders a kind of exploded diagram of different methods of seeing. “Sigi's Erben” seems to make an issue of being unimpressive, using what looks like a network of steel pipes to display glass pictures at different levels relative to the eye. What’s most significant about “Sigi Erben”, however, is the mix of porousness and impenetrability intrinsic to its display. 

The predominant material is glass, and yet the pictures themselves are not transparent, being filled in by wonky colors that lend them an object-like solidity. Placed high atop the pipe-like structure, like birds nesting in a tree, one sees through the work as a whole, one can even walk through it. Insofar as it references Sigmar Polke,“Sigi Erben” is an utterance, an homage translated into an environment. As an independent work a-temporally afloat in the “vast synchronic landscape of information peculiar to our century,” it synthetically extends the concept of “a grid,” bestowing on it a fluidity not normally associated with the term.   

After painting, the question is not so much how to represent a singular image, but how to make the plastic aspects of a delimited picture present in an IRL way. Can art be an environment, an immersive world-like experience, and still be art? MoMA’s The Forever Now implies this question, but just as suddenly veers away from any definite answer. As a whole, the show feels almost careless, inconsequential, even in a world given over to a-temporality.

MoMA
http://www.moma.org/

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This painting Sigi’s Erben is a pretty unique painting. I think the artists is giving us a view from a work place of some sort, and she is giving us what she is seeing. I feel like the author adds little extra pieces of art just to show us some of the other things she probably sees when she is standing in this particular spot. This glass painting is very unique, you rarely see glass painting and this one was very unique.