The Thing

Mira Schor: Painting in The Space Where Painting Used to Be
Some Walls, Oakland, CA
Through December 18, 2011

The Writer’s Meeting follows the usual banal routine. Expensively yet tastefully appointed conference room. Mahogany table laid out with the small, bottled Evians, containers of Chinese food (untouched), four-inch-long rails of blow chopped on the new Coldplay CD cover (touched). The writer’s assistant, a B-movie actress you would recognize (The Human Millipede, Spring Break Gangbang VI), her blonde hair now red, sits at the far end of the table taking notes. “Listen,” I say, “this is all very confusing. Are we or are we not discussing the same script? Is Philip Seymour Hoffman attached to the project or not?” I am beginning to sense panic in their eyes and need to restore order and confidence quickly. “What we have here is a live-action Happy Feet: Rio meets Antichrist, right? Can someone please sum all this up in a nutshell? I like things in nutshells.”

Mira Schor understands clarity of ideas. Her exhibition Painting in The Space Where Painting Used to Be demonstrates that. This robust show of five works dramatically and quite succinctly combines her own history as an artist with elements of a history of Modernist painting. Schor has integrated fierce intelligence and precision in language with a lush, painterly hand. No mean feat, that. Her multi-disciplined approach to art-making and adherence to Painting as High Art places her among the most interesting artists working today.

Here we have something like a story of art, a meta-narrative, starting with Lack (1997), the painted word brushed into a dark ground. Part “In the beginning there was the Word,” part Post-Modernist Lacanian theory writ personal, she begins a story about beginning a story. That is, demonstrating in paint the process by which an artist conceives an idea and renders it visible through plastic form. Thought made flesh, so to speak. Schor’s brush surface recalls other painters, such as Rembrandt and de Kooning, who sought a similar result from oil paint. Borges said that there were only two narratives in storytelling: The Odyssey and the Crucifixion. If we adhere to this, then Schor has embarked on a Homeric journey, though in this case a mental voyage of discovery.

Do you want a cup of tea? Or an aspirin? Or a Serafem? Don’t be embarrassed. Keep a grip on it. Don’t worry. Everything’s going to turn out okay in the end. Treats are in store.

In her essay “Modest Painting,” Schor outlines her program for painting. She writes, “Modest painting does not aspire to historical importance through physical domination of the viewer or the room in which it is placed via monumentality of size.” Her aspirations may be modest, but the depth of these pictures and the seriousness of purpose they exhibit are far from minor in impact. Schor, a feminist artist and thinker, has long eschewed less immodest paths for her artistic discourse. She has weathered the decades of artists who achieved higher profiles through second-rate performance involving pulling things out of/putting things into their snoopies, or scatter-sculptures of used tampons. Schor has instead focused on leveling the playing field -- by bringing her work, and her ideas, to life through paint.

In Thinking of "Thing" (2011) and Thing (2011) she draws the artist mentally composing a picture, and in the subsequent painting, a luminous white ground inscribed with the word “thing,” she presents us with the result. In this picture she produces a painterly object that both respects the traditions of painting and embraces the modernist conceptual ideas of artists like Lawrence Weiner and Joseph Kosuth.

Schor’s complex ideas about art making, and specifically the role of the painter, are summed up in the final two works in the exhibit. First Idea (2010) and The Space Where Painting Used to Be (2010) are self-portraits, of a sort. Schematic stick figures -- or cartoons along the lines of Philip Guston’s late self-portraits -- read, pace, recline, and, most of all, think. Lines diagramming the sight lines from eye to book to thought balloon show the process by which an art idea becomes an art object.

Schor gives us a glimpse into the headspace that creates, bringing her journey, and by proxy ours, full-circle. From thought to expression. Schor takes us from that space where painting was to where its possibilities lie. - Bradley Rubenstein

Some Walls is in Oakland, California.

Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.


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