this is a tough game we play-- this making of art, the laying down of expression-- visual, tactile, heroic, lyrical, what have you. anyone brave enough to labor through these wilds publicly needs no apologists or defenders. the act and or action or activity of the creation is validation and, indeed, defense enough. but there are times when words must be laid down to right a wrong, and clear up foggy notions.
a year or 2 ago, holly myers reviewed an exhibition of paintings by alex couwenberg at the now defunct, DEN Contemporary. her review was concise, literate and, in it's conclusion, somewhat damning. fine... her arguments were points of aesthetics and composition. and, to be fair, though one may or may not agree with said points, quite relevant...
skip ahead to her review of couwenberg's recent show at William Turner Gallery and we have a much different review-- the same tone, granted, but a much different review all together. here (in the LA Times, Culture Monster) myers brings up couwenbergs "...pronounced fondness for Midcentury Modernism..." ok. in a recent post on this site i mentioned how writers have fallen into the ease of this reference regarding couwenbergs work, and here another writer moves forward for the hook...
but now, with this new piece, we go along a strange and dark path of discussion as myers continues: "--so pronounced, it seems to have shouldered out any competing inspiration." this caught me for a moment. what?? had we seen the same work?
where was the discussion of the muscular composition? where were the words discussing the bravura use of material and stunning technique?
to give myers the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she has not experienced couwenbergs work of the last 5 or 6 years... my first encounter with the artist's work was one of stunned silence in the face of a singular, proud originality. the moves were there-- the use of material, stunning and innovative, the composition-- well, yeah, flawless... at that time, couwenberg used an elliptical, near organic line to divide vectors of the panel and the composition. it was a line, that, while not unanticipated, was also startlingly new. from there couwenberg went into a phase of investigation involving monochromes and various takes on gloss, and or luminous surface. he pared his compositions down to mere blocks in space, or perhaps soaring arabesques. then he turned to the more graphic, referential forms of his current work. all the while couwenberg exhibited his precise, austere sense of craft and composition. his innate fine taste and balance...
yes, midcentury modernism... why not?? myers herself calls the work; "...sleek, multilayered, spatially sophisticated compositions...". whats the problem? she goes on to write that, "...there is much to be said for a handsome, well-crafted picture." yeah, no shit... again, why not?? where is the problem? it's hard work to make a good painting. damn hard work. it takes guts and your hands get dirty and the stress eats away at you and keep at it and maybe it works. maybe not. but thats what it takes and understanding that process is part of the understanding of paint. it seems that myers' take on art is one that goes beyond the power of aesthetics and sincerity. ok, thats the way of the world, looking at and digging good painting isn't easy. that might explain the proliferation of so much crap installed in the galleries and museums, it's the yearning for the unique and the "lower east side", if you will, of the art world-- the look and the take on things of an artistic nature that frowns on the seriousness of intent found in the best of art and shines simply on the vapid, pedestrian POSTMODERNIST regurgitations of any number of galleries and MFA programs. indeed, any number of college graduate idiots nailing polaroids of their asses to the limpid walls of limpid galleries.
yeah... so how far to take this? how ugly do i get to get my point across? fuck it... myers (and the couple of lightweight dimwits who commented on the LA Times website, one of the lost actually brought up COBRA as a point of quality...) confuse fine art with their vision of labels and purpose. if myers came out and said these paintings were for shit, hell, why not? that would be a real statement and a fight worth fighting and standing for. i'd probably be tearing up words against that notion, but at least it would be a battle for the winning. alas, myers came out and told us how good the work was, then turned that into an attack on the very optimism she wrote of.
perhaps she didn't look at them long enough. and if she looked at them long enough she sure as hell didn't have the chops to dig the work for what it was. sadly, it must be said that it seems myers is missing something in the evaluation of painterly activity.
in conclusion, this particular piece was lazy journalism and, at worst, lazy intellectualism, camouflaged, conveniently, with a yearning for something outside the sinew of the aesthetic.
and now i will have another drink and look out the window at a cold new york night,
not unlike any number of painters--
great, lost, dead or forgotten...
Monday, February 2, 2009
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