Michael Williams: Paintings
The CANADA Gallery, NYC
Through December 8, 2013
INT. BELLYLAFFS COMEDY CLUB - EVENING
HOUSE BAND [Jay-Z/Kanye West]: I ball so hard muthafuckas wanna find me, first niggas gotta find me / Tha shit cray / Tha shit cray / Tha shit cray / Ain’t it, Jay?
SIDEKICK [Tracy Morgan]: Give it up for Jay-Z and Kanye West, Ladies and Gentlemen… and now, you have probably seen his recent special It Ain't Gonna Suck Itself [Applause]…Bellylaffs is pleased to present one white boy who really does ball hard…
HOST [James Franco] - enters stage right]: Thank you Tracy! Thank you! [Applause] Thank you! It’s true, I really do ball hard. Very hard. Mostly by myself… [Laughter/Applause]… Thank you…
HOST: So this guy, who has never been sick a day in his life, calls his boss. He says, "I can’t come in today, I’m sick." The boss says, "No problem, take the day off. I’m just curious, though, how sick are you?" The guy says, "I just fucked my sister!"
AUDIENCE: [Applause/Laughter/Dog pound fist pumping]
HOST: But seriously folks, we have a really great show tonight…We have children’s book author Sasha Grey [Applause], Heath Ledger, special guests Billy Cyborg and the Rape Babies, Slavoj Žižek [Applause], and my first guest tonight Mr. Jerry Saltz [Applause]…
CUT TO DESK/COUCH.
HOST [at DESK/SIDEKICK and JERRY SALTZ on COUCH]: [Reading INDEX CARDS] You probably recognize Jerry Saltz from his recent appearances in Ghetto Gangbang and Spring Gashbreakers…
SIDEKICK: [Laughing] No, Dog, you got tha wrong cards…
HOST: You’re right! [Shuffles Cards] That’s Sasha Grey! You may recognize our next guest from his recent appearances on The Rachel Maddow Show and Bravo’s Stars of the Venice Biennial: Where Are They Now?...Please welcome…Jerrrrrry Saaaaaaltz…[Applause]
JERRY SALTZ (Himself): Hi Jim…
HOST: Thank you for coming! Good to see you…[Host brushes CURIOUS WHITE POWDER from JERRY SALTZ's lapel] I see you found [Makes air-quotation gesture] the powdered-sugar doughnuts in the Green Room [Off Audience laughter]…but seriously, you recently appeared on CNN to talk about former President George Bush’s new paintings….[Audience boos and catcalls]
JERRY SALTZ: Yes, I think he is a terrific artist…a far better pictorialist than Adolph Hitler. [Audience boos and catcalls]
HOST: [Off Audience] Ouch! Sorry, Jerry! Hitler? [Audience boos]
HOST: [To Audience] What? Too soon? [Audience applause]
HOST: You describe his paintings as being "painted in the weight room and painted in the shower"…Now, to me, that sounds like…[making coughing sound, fist covering mouth]…coughcoughhugehomohugehomohugehomo…[Audience howling with laughter]
HOST: Anyway…you are here to talk about Michael Williams's new show…I saw it last night and found it to be hilarious! [Settles at DESK with LAMINATED CARDS WITH PICTURES] Look at some of these...[Flipping through stack of LAMINATED CARDS WITH PICTURES] Here is one: Ikea Be Here Now (2013)…and this…Hundreds of Dollars in Meditation Equipment (2013)...and this one is called It Came Out of My Paint Tube (2013) [Audience laughter]…Now, I am not an art critic, but I think it's pretty safe to say my three-year-old daughter could have painted some of these…[Off Audience]…if she had been born with fetal alcohol syndrome…[Audience boos]…What? Too soon? [Laughter/Applause]
WOMAN IN AUDIENCE/HECKLER: You suck!
HOST: Shut up, Mom, you're still drunk…
[Laughter/Dog pound fist pumping]
HECKLER: No, you shut up…
HOST: Wouldn't it be really great if, like, a group of four or five guys raped her right now? Like, right now?
SIDEKICK/JAY-Z/KANYE WEST EXIT STAGE LEFT INTO AUDIENCE
HOST: Sorry, Jerry, you were saying…
JERRY SALTZ: I was stunned into something like a stupor by Williams's work. No matter how closely or long I looked at these eleven large colorful paintings, I could not gain a purchase on their surfaces. His new work delivers a sort of tranquilizer bullet to one's ability to detect haptic presence. A viewer knows there's paint on the canvas, and yet when one tries to focus on it through the multiple overlays of images and abstract fields, the paintings continually come into and then fall away from actually feeling physical. Philosopher Maurice Blanchot has written about such paradoxical "inaccessibility" as something being in "infinite pursuit of its own source." I know that I felt like Williams's new paintings suspended me in an optic warp that kept me probing their processes…
HOST: Let's take a quick break. When we return we have a special guest who knows a thing or two about "probing"… Sasha Grey will join us and read some excerpts from her new children's book Don’t Tell Mommy!...
HOST: Welcome back! In case you are just joining us, we're chatting with Jerry Saltz and [Gesturing toward Slavoj Žižek] Slavoj Žižek who has stopped by to talk about Michael Williams's new work. Thanks for stopping by Slavoj.
SLAVOJ ŽIŽECK (Himself): Thank you. I am sleeping with Lady Gaga.
HOST: Um, okay then.
JERRY SALTZ: As I was saying… Though not every painting works, the whole show is good, and three stand out. Ikea Be Here Now (from 2013, like all the work on view) centers on a naked man in glasses standing in front of a house, a ladder behind him. Another nude figure, maybe a model holding some sort of page that the naked guy appears to be holding, is also present. I saw what looks like a sawhorse, possibly a carpenter's plane, another naked figure, and someone with a backpack. The high-keyed, eye-popping Day-Glo color is just this side of truly gaudy. In the crowded-to-the-point-of-blissful-confusion Honk If You Don’t Exist, you might spot images, patterns, polka dots, stripes, clouds, and street signs. Soon, you give up trying to name what you’re seeing, and then these aggressively pictorial works turn very abstract. It Came Out of My Paint Tube is actually ballsy enough to have a big Philip Guston-like shoe smack in the middle, along with a cute cream-colored sun and a cow with an ear for a body. I think there's perspective and illusionistic space in this cartoony thing, but that could all be me, trying to make sense of how it's organized.
HOST: …a cow with a giant ear for a belly… stop it… you're killing me… [Audience laughing with HOST]
SIDEKICK: Tha shit's cray, Dog!
SLAVOJ ŽIŽECK: Do you know I am also sleeping with Marina Abramović? Many times.
JERRY SALTZ: All the paintings here create the same kind of visual hit as billboards, placards, brightly colored advertisements, or internet images. In a number of them, the painterly incidents and cockeyed space can't overcome the cartoony drawing, funky bad-boy chaos, garishness, or the occasional plainness, and those are the paintings that don't entirely come off. In this show, Williams is evincing his familiar influences and visual kin -- artists like Guston, Bonnard, Vuillard, Peter Saul, and R. Crumb, plus some Chicago Imagism and California Funk. But in the most successful ones, Williams adds the complexities of artists like Peter Doig, Carroll Dunham…
SLAVOJ ŽIŽECK: I am sleeping with Lena Dunham, as well.
JERRY SALTZ: …and Sigmar Polke. Instead of trying to get between photography and painting, like Doig does, Williams looks like he's trying to get between painting and the digital world, like Wade Guyton. The connections to Polke and Dunham come in the form of Williams freeing himself and allowing the painting to tell him what to do to it.
HOST: [Interrupting] Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, there you have it! I take back most of what I said earlier about a retarded goat being able to paint these! [Applause/Laughter] Still to come: Heath Ledger, Jennifer Lawrence, and Justin Bieber join Jay-Z and Kanye West for a musical tribute to the Village People… wait, Tracy? [Looks out at Audience] Jay? Kanye? Mom?
COMMERCIAL - Bradley Rubenstein
The CANADA gallery is at 333 Broome Street, New York, New York 10002.
Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.