Girls, Girls, Girls!

Karen-Heagle-Studio-Still-Life-with-Starfish-2010

Vivid: Female Currents in Painting
Curated by Janet Phelps
Schroeder Romero & Shredder, NYC
Through January 22, 2011
 
Gender equity in art has always been a tender subject, particularly in New York; largely due to the economics of the art world here, as opposed to other, more remote parts of the country. After several decades of activist/feminist artists efforts at parity, we have finally reached a point where there might be considered a second generation of feminist artists. Vivid: Female Currents in Painting, provides a wonderful snapshot of recent works by contemporary painters, who, reproductive organs aside, are good at what they do.
 
Janet Phelps deftly culled the best of the moment -- a daunting task -- and presented works by over two dozen artists. Weaving together artists working in myriad styles the works generously lent themselves to each other, unifying what might otherwise been a fire sale of an exhibition.
 
Viewers familiar with Karen Heagle's earlier works, with their references to Zena, Warrior Princess and the Incredible Hulk, might easily miss the nuanced "Still Life with Starfish" (2010). Here, eschewing outright references to cartoon culture, Heagle does an end-run around Philip Guston, with velvety, loaded brushstrokes and references to an inner, studio-bound world. An overturned can of dirty brushes spills out into a pile of starfish, perhaps a metaphor for the generative power of art. Mira Schor mines similar territory, with her elegant painterly calligraphy she depicts the artist-as-reader-as-thinker ("Voice" 2010) . In the past Schor has sought, quite successfully, to give visual form to "the word" that most abstract of concepts. Here, the word leaps from the page, is transformed through sight, and becomes pure thought. Shor's economic line gently illuminates rather than illustrates.
 
Andrea Champlin's trompe l'oiel "collage," "Lucky (Mr. Torso)" 2010, plays with painted layers of shredded imagery. It's a sly nod to earlier artists like Hannah Hoch, yet adds the twist of actually painting the appropriated material. Interspersed with oblique references, through patterning, to Pablo Picasso, Jasper Johns and James Rosenquist, she manages to absorb the references, while making them her own. In spite of the shows premise, "balls" are not lacking in the works of Nicola Tyson and Elizabeth Bonaventura. Tyson's "Bouguet" (2007) a jagged thorny affair on a scraped yellow ground suggests les fleurs du mal more than an FTD delivery. It's fleshy, bulbous shape seems about to burst with the snakey-crab thing from Alien; yet little blue and orange buds suggest tenderness more than violence. Bonaventura's "Untitled with Two Figures" (2010) also bespeaks a violence, though one held in restraint. Her slashing strokes are layered and separated, her figures too, disconnected and isolated. They seem to occupy differing planes, and, as theatrical as the tableau seems, give us an almost Baconian sense of deconstructed narrative.
 
The thin layers of wash are built up like an old Disney animation cell, giving a rich depth of field, and also adding to the sense of disjointed narrative. In conjunction with this exhibition the gallery is also presenting Pavers a combination sideshow and prequel of women artists from the past who have provided the inspiration for the painters in Vivid. Especially of interest is a small nude by Louise Nevelson ("Untitled" 1928), a quirky figure with red drapery against a boat-filled nautical scene. Nevelson, a prodigious sculpture of ominus, black-painted boxes filled with found objects shows a surreal influence not found in her signature works. Pieces by the late Joan Mitchell show her to have been not only a strong influence on female artists, but a definite catalyst for Cy Twombly and Julian Schnabel's gestural mark-making. Weird self-portraits by Susanna Coffey ("Inside Fall" 2010) and Joan Semmel ("Disappearing" 2005) reverse the "male gaze" and give us two images of self with a Rembrandt-like combination of analysis and empathy, insights into the mind of the artist at work.
 
Ultimately this show's abundance is its strength, and shortcoming. While many of the artists included, though, for lack of space not mentioned, mine abstraction, pop art, and geometric styles, such small measures of each artists work serve more to whet the appetite that offer fulfillment. That is not necessarily such a bad thing. The following artists are included in Vivid: Female Currents in Painting: Laylah Ali, Elizabeth Bonaventura, Rosanna Bruno, Rebecca Chamberlain, Andrea Champlin, Jennifer Coates, Angela Dufresne, Jackie Gendel, Karen Heagle, Laurie Hogin, Vera Iliatova, Mala Iqbal, Harriet Korman, Judith Linhares, Medrie MacPhee, Carrie Moyer, Dona Nelson, iona rozeal brown, Sigrid Sandström, Mira Schor, Barbara Takenaga, Nicola Tyson, and Wendy White. - Bradley Rubenstein

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

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