Chris Martin, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York NY
Chris Martin’s collago-paintings at Mitchell-Innes & Nash are somewhat annoying in their appeal. They are mostly newspaper grids, very recent NY Post headline zingers, mostly from 2011 and 2012 (he’s so daring in his relevancy!). They are then painted, sometimes possibly squeegeed, with Caribbean shades of oranges, greens, yellows and reds. They sometimes have large holes cut out, revealing a canvas bar or another layer of the same. Sometimes these holes are not cut out but made with paint. There are larger works that have variance from the gridding, like Reverend Al In Mourning that has one newspaper page surrounded by a large field of tin foil. It is actually one of the best tin-foil-art pieces I have seen. It also recalls Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe from 1962. What goes around apparently never finished coming around. This is the thing about Martin’s work. It is utterly “now” in all the bad ways but it has this charming quality of actually being very good, smart, and humorous art. It is on the positive spectrum of what I have been seeing a lot of lately which I am calling, “Yup Art” as in “yup, that’s art” or “yup, I made this.” Almost always, Yup Art is as exciting as getting asked to join the kids in the weed smoking room, but on occasion, after the peer contact high, there can actually be something not all that bad about it. Also, Martin’s work has a detachment to the cleverness of using pop images, newspapers, glitter, tin foil, and Africana invocation in his paintings and if those themes are going to continue to be tread, then it might as well be Martin who does it.
Jason Fox, Eating Symbols, Peter Blum, New York NY
As mentioned in Chris Martin’s bit, “Yup Art” can be seen in Jason Fox’s exhibition, Eating Symbols at Peter Blum but in the negative skew. There is a mixture of portraits, geometric color stains, animals, and quasi-religious paintings. They are swiftly painted, and the colors are a standard set of primaries and secondaries. Fox’s coloring and painting technique is appealing, there is clearness in his use of color and overlay. What is distracting and takes away from his paintings is the imagery. The portraits recall a tripped out morph of Jesus, Obama, Andrew WK and that creepy longhaired hippie guy. The religious intonations of crosses, snow angles and other such symbols are pre-teen in their gesture. The animals are supposed to summon old-timey New Yorker cartoons but they just look unnecessary. I really don’t know what to make of this show. There are just too many art school ideas jammed in here. He too uses tin foil, but in a “really, tin foil?” type of way. Maybe I lack a sense of humor, or I am not rock n’ roll enough but this exhibition is discouraging because I know we will be seeing a lot more of this type of work for many more years.
Shirin Neshat, The Book of Kings, Gladstone Gallery, New York NY
After I write this and if no one hears from me for a few weeks than you will know that the art world illuminati has kidnapped me and I am being made to re-enact durational performance art pieces under the guard and enforcement of Klaus and Marina somewhere upstate (call my mom). Anyways here, goes. The new series of photographs by Shirin Neshat at Gladstone gallery entitled Book of Kings, is in reference to Shahnameh an ancient epic poem of tragedies written by Ferdowi c. 977-1010 AD. These photos are head-on portraits of contemporary Iranian and Arab youths and they are astonishingly well photographed, revealing the sitter’s face and sometimes shoulders and chest. There are a variety of sizes and they are broken into three groups, the Masses, the Patriots, and the Villains. Over their faces and bodies is hand drawn Arabic calligraphy and at times drawings that refer to the Shahnameh and also contemporary stories. This series is a pleaser show. It is pleasing to the masses as it is beautifully done and also is accessible. It is pleasing to the art world as the art world needs and loves a hero/heroine that embodies political validity and participation. It pleases everyone that likes to check the box that says, “we care,” “we are radical,” “we stand in solidarity.” This is all well and good; this is all very wonderful and rewarding for everyone, truly, but for me it is just too much. It is vulgar in its excessive political and emotional employment. Yes, of course what is happening in the Middle East is something that must be seen, learned about and to engage with but there is something about this series that makes me feel that it is being used as a check on the art world’s To Do List of political engagement. This is the work that Neshat makes, it has always been the type of work that she has made and of course it has a place and of course it has merit and quality but I feel that she is sadly also being treated as a mascot for this type of work, and the issues of identity and politics in the Middle East, and to me, using art or an artist in that way is always ghastly and suspicious.
Damien Hirst, Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011, Gagosian, New York NY
The title says it all. Hirst is James Bonding the art world with a startling show of bravado, calculated genius and death defying maneuverings of self relevancy by showcasing all, over 300, of his spot paintings in Gagosian’s world dominating 11 galleries. Hey, we ask for spectacle, don’t complain when we get one. Unlike some, I most certainly will not be seeing all 11 habitations of Hirst’s spot paintings but the one I have seen at the flagship Gagosian gallery on 24th Street in Chelsea was enough for me. Hirst is quoted to have said, “I was always a colorist, I’ve always had a phenomenal love of color…” and with that his motivation of making his spot paintings can’t be held against him, as they do make you think about color. His spot paintings are a simple formula; you or an assistant makes a circle, colors this in, measure an equidistance of first circle, leave this allotment white and then make another circle of same size as first and color in a different color, repeat until surface is filled, never repeat same color twice. This installation had samplings of small, medium and massive dots that were inches to a few feet tall. They were on small, medium, very large and circular canvases. They make you feel like you are going into a candy store, Willy Wonka’s private art collection, a rich kids bedroom. They are appealingly light and the color is very candy. There is a lot of optics at play as well, they move, buzz, shimmy, and pop up and down. Some spot sizes to canvas size was more beneficial to this optical dance but regardless it is just fine that these paintings were made and exist and are being show at a contemporary art gallery in New York and world wide. Hirst makes the work that everyone wants, is that bad? Is that good? Is that manufactured? I’m not sure nor do I fidget about it. The hoopla around this show is not about the work but about him and about Gagosian. They represent something, and that something is for some, very unsettling, anger inducing, annoying, capitalist, bad boy, obnoxious, whoring, etc. Now, this is of course more then valid, Hirst and Gagosian get negative reaction because they incur it from their practice and public stance, but at the end of the day, these spot paintings are neither the best nor the worst of what is being shown, touted and institutionalized at spaces small, medium and board approved. Yes, art is about the culture, yes it is the point of entry to talk and to analyze what it means to be human and how it reflects of our society. That conversation more then anything else is the biggest art aspect of this whole thing and honestly, that is very impressive. Lines in the sand have been drawn and about time.