By Barry N. Neuman
Two dudes. Paddling. In the line-up. Lincoln Boulevard, Long Beach.
(Two surfer dudes, that is.)
Dude: Hey, is purple the color of the moment?
Other Dude: Francis Bacon painted with purple. It’s not so much only of this moment. Bacon’s framing of the figure seems to be making an appearance this season, though.
D: Right. There’s Shona McAndrew’s heroically-sized female nudes. In her recent digital collages, each is depicted reclining in a bedroom. When I asked her if she had an affinity for Richard Hamilton, she replied that she absolutely did. However, unlike Hamilton, who “positioned somewhat anonymous/generalized figures to engage tropes present in contemporary life,” McAndrew aims to “reflect the interior life of each of the individuals that inhabit the space.”
OD: Nicole Ruggiero is creating virtual reality environments in which a hypothetical figure is absent.
D: For sure. The poster for “A Clockwork Orange,” mounted above the bed in one of her works, is a nice touch. Surrounded by other pieces of furniture and personal effects, each viewer of Ruggiero’s work is able to navigate through someone’s private, domestic space – with the implicit permission of the room’s occupant and at various angles. Immersed within a purple, glowing, futuristic, architectonic environment, the viewer is the one who is framed by the artist.
OD: Figures are seen partially immersed in swimming pools in Eric Fischl’s “Late America” series of paintings.
D: Indeed. It’s an interesting effect. In one work, a man, wearing swimming trunks, is standing in the shallow end of a swimming pool, and, in another, a woman, in a long, black, semi-diaphanous, evening gown, is sitting by the edge of a pool. The woman is lost in thought, while her legs and dress are partially immersed in the water. Beneath the surface of the water, each is in a different world. The man, who is having a dialogue with a youngster, who’s standing next to the pool, appears to be both cooling off and in the space created by his dialogue; the woman, however, is, inconsolable. She’s in a world of her own of private thoughts and emotions, but oblivious to how the bottom of her dress is getting soaked in water; nearby, a swimming, black Labrador Retriever is, well, living a dog’s life, not a human’s.
OD: The figures are triply framed. Once by the edges of the pool, twice by the surface of the water, and thrice by the actual edges of each painting.
D: Cool. Actual frames are most notably setting off Cindy Sherman’s figures in “Once Upon a Time, 1981 - 2011” at Mnuchin Gallery.
OD: Royally! Sherman’s work has always been distinctive in the way that it differentiates the New School from the Old School in photography. She produces works in series, and her works are conceptually rooted. Here, the gallery’s attentiveness to custom picture framing has elevated her work in ways that, for the most part, universal acclaim has yet to do. The presentation amplifies the power of each and every work.
D: With one gallery exhibition in New York and two museum exhibitions in Washington, D.C., Markus Lüpertz’s work is gaining American exposure that’s long overdue.
OD: At Michael Werner Gallery, many of his frames are painted. They’re a part of each composition.
D: Arcadia is the subject of these paintings: startling, expressively executed, classical figures, set off by trees, landscapes, and lakes, the surfaces of which beautifully reflect their surroundings. Lüpertz is a member of the Neo-Expressionist generation of German artists, and reconciling one’s memory of his works in the 1980’s and 1990’s with these bedrock representations of civilization is a head-spinning experience.
OD: He was the rule-breaker back then, and the artist whose recent works you now want to show to your university art history professors and say, “Do you see that this is possible? To produce paintings and sculpture that exist beyond conventional norms and, 35 years later, paintings that go to the core of classical ideals and also stand out as original expressions?”
D: Classical works, as presented in museums in the digital photography age, are the subjects of many of Elena García de la Fuente’s recent paintings.
OD: She’s been depicting views of permanent collection galleries in art museums where photography is prohibited. The perspectives are what would have previously been considered eccentric, but they’re the new normal now. Museum visitors are often seen from below and at fascinating angles.
D: She’s also been imagining how well-known figurative paintings would look depopulated. In one work, she shows a gallery in El Prado where the figures are absent in all of the paintings, including “Las Meninas,” by Diego Velázquez. The museum space is devoid of visitors, as well.
OD: The ornate frames of the works are conspicuously depicted, as are their quadrangular reflections on the museum floor.
D: A view through an angled window in a Ridley Howard painting makes for a dynamic bit of implied story-telling.
OD: Here, one woman is depicted speaking to another woman, who is covering her mouth with her hand. The first time I saw this work, I thought that the face of the listener appeared to be tightening with revulsion and horror, and, when I saw the work again a few weeks later, it looked as if she was trying not to burst out loud in laughter. The deeply dark, matte black paint surrounding the window beautifully sets off the figures. The work is reminiscent of scenes in David Lean’s “Dr. Zhivago” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps,” in which the viewers are shown unhearable, dramatic conversations through windows with gridded panes; both directors had started their careers during the silent film era. Here, Howard most inventively creates a cinematic experience in painterly terms.
D: The ultimate in drama is presented in Marni Kotak’s recent exhibition, which takes gallery visitors through the aftermath of the fire that destroyed much of her home. In one photograph, the artist is portrayed standing defiantly, wearing only white cotton panties and a pair of USA-flag-patterned, high top canvas Converse sneakers, in the chaos that was her basement. Amidst piles of fragments of wood, upon which walls had previously been affixed, the charred remains of a work of sculpture – a trophy, slumping (but not appearing defeatedly so) upon a pedestal, and the wooden wall studs through the viewer may see the entire, still-standing sublevel, Kotak is seen proudly communicating that this is resolutely her domain. It’s where, notwithstanding her semi-nude state, she could stand with her head held up high.
OD: Here, Kotak conveys that it is figure that sustains the frame.
OD: This is, perhaps, a sentiment that the survivors of Superstorm Sandy here, in Long Beach, understand.
D: Looks, it’s day trippers. And it’s 12 noon.
D: For sure! Until next time…