Cement Greenberg #1: Spray Away
A bi-monthly collection of mixed exhibition reviews.
The talk of the town is spray paint. From its rightful place, the street, it has been pulled into the gallery space and dragged by blue-chip artists as evidenced by this weeks reviews.
Will Sheldon: Raffaella at Company Gallery
Company Gallery presents a sorry series of paintings by Will Sheldon in a solo show titled Raffaella—spoiler alert!—centering an attractive but predictable-looking young woman. Hung on black walls the pieces are nuanced monochromes painted with airbrush. But even that vibe of harshly lit canvases creating pops of color in a black box cannot mask this show’s poor spirit. Rather than channeling the real person (actually his friend), Sheldon’s version of Raffaella becomes an object, a product of the artist’s sweaty imagination. Take the hot pink painting Raffaella in the Studio with Her Mannequin which presents Raffaella’s skinny and scantily clad body on all fours with her blonde hair tousled as she passionately beckons the viewer (or maybe the artist?) with her gaze. The picture is a display of sexual readiness. The small, pseudo-seductive but decidedly poorly painted sweat drops on Raffaella’s collar bone in her close-up Raffaella on the Lake in Maine begs one question: Do we really need another show celebrating the male gaze and standardized beauty? Desire deserves space, but this is cheesy. Enough so that camp and irony cannot provide it protection. The airbrush tool, with its blurry soft lines and cloudy effect, makes the paintings unbearably sleazy. Perhaps there is solace in the hope that Raffaella might find this body of work flattering.
Katherine Bernhardt: I’m Bart Simpson, who the hell are you? at Canada
Katherine Bernhardt’s solo show I’m Bart Simpson, who the hell are you? at Canada gallery is spraypaint at its most joyful. I entered the space with few expectations. Looking at large, saturated “bad paintings” displaying cartoon characters in acidic neon colors is usually not that rewarding. But, I was delighted to discover that each painting in the show portrays Bart’s butt as he cheerfully moons the viewer. Simply, the work reminded me of how fun it is to do it. Art that can bring back a happy memory gets points. Here, the spray paint makes sense in its speedy nature. Mooning has to happen quickly, thus the paintings have a lightness to them. Appreciating the cheek, I bounced out of this show happy to have visited it, surer then ever about who I am.
Ben Tong: In a Year of 13 Moons at Jack Barrett Gallery
Los Angeles-based artist Ben Tong’s solo show In a Year of 13 Moons at Jack Barrett Gallery is spray-free but due to some common visual denominators—fuzzy, frizzy, blurred, and druggy—I added it to this bundle of reviews. “If Tong’s paintings were to have a sound, it would be a meditative hum: one that beckons us inside, while at the same time refusing to seduce us with any overt clarity,” novelist Travis Jeppesen writes in the press release, rather generously. If meditation is the art of being able to hold the mind from wandering and keeping it still and clear, Tong’s paintings do the opposite. The hallucinatory vision of out-of-focus interiors in high contrast is achieved by jagged brush strokes and a soft shaky hand, one that simply does not hold steady and will not make a commitment. Unfortunately mismatched with their intemded softness and looseness the heavy and dark paints are aiming for intensity but fail on all counts. The contradiction between a haphazard technique and great spiritual ambition is frustrating. Tong’s paintings take more energy than they give, which is worsened by the gallery’s choice to overhang the show.
Check back for more reviews on February 25th.
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