From time to time we receive letters to the editor, and the following is a recent missive which we thought worthy of sharing. - ed
Since the inadequacy of certain Art Institute honchos and the sad state of painting are popular topics on this site, may I direct you to the current painting exhibition by Maureen Gallace in the Art Institute's contemporary section. The show, comprised of landscape and figure paintings in oil, mostly in the 12" to 15" range, is part of their "focus" series highlighting work by current artists.
Anyone familiar with 20th century painting will walk into this show and within about two minutes say to themselves "this is just a bunch of little fragments from Fairfield Porter paintings". That really is, it seems to me, about all there is to the show when you boil it down. These little things are hung repetitively in an eye-level line along the wall. They seem to be after some postmodern exploration of pointlessness and arbitrary imagery ("Gallace's subject matter ultimately emerges as repetition, and thus, as painting itself", says James Rondeau in the show pamphlet), with a little painterliness and nostalgia mixed in to make them seem "fresh" as opposed to a Tuymans/Richter retread. This show is exemplary of the walking-dead, beaten-down state of institutionally-sanctioned painting today.
I mean, perhaps it's mildly interesting, I understand what she's going for, but there's just such an aura of sad futility about it, it's so typical of the kind of painting you would expect to see in this context. Is this really all she can some up with, a bunch of derivative fragments? We've seen it. There's gotta be something more exciting to try, even if it comes out bad and embarrassing, that'd be better than this nothingness.
Here's more Rondeau from the pamphlet:
"at first blush , her modest objects seem anomalous--old-fashioned, anachronistic even--in the marketplace of contemporary figurative painting. "
To me they seem like Elizabeth Peyton but a little more rustic, not exactly out of left field, more like acceptable painting circa 2006, but whatever you say....
I love how all these curators think it's their job to police painting, and then they apply such an ignorant sensibility to the task. If you do anything that looks like a traditional painting you're highly suspect, but if you keep it small, weak, derivative, and photo-based, you might have a shot.
"the strength and importance of her work is rooted in its self-conscious simplicity, confident technical discipline, and theoretical orientation."
Ah, so as long as we're confident there's a strong theoretical orientation (which theoretician? we aren't told. That's Ok, I'm sure it's someone REAL IMPORTANT) for the work, it doesn't matter how dull it is to look at. We wouldn't want a painting that, by virtue of the power of its presence, required no justification from outside sources. That'd be too scary.
"Comparisons to such august art-historical precedents as...Edward Hopper...Giorgio Morandi, Fairfield Porter....are easy and frequent; in truth, her practice, while in dialogue with such precursors, is distinctively contemporary"
Translation: She draws on these artists for the purpose of making an imitative, self-conscious, joyless, detached critique of painting tradition because...well, I don't know why but that's what you're supposed to do, right?
"The artist's rigorous, almost anxious, reiterations of the countryside contradict the potentially precious, sentimental, or cute associations of naive amateurism knowingly conjured by the scale and subject matter of her work....In reality, her studio practice is an urban, intense, often worried depiction of scenes that are simultaneously part of and outside of her experience."
Oh, well if it's urban then it must be hip and sophisticated. Now I can like it.
And now, here it is, the capper, A FOOTNOTE FROM THE PAMPHLET FOR THIS SHOW:
"If you saw Maureen Gallace's modest little paintings of New England cottages in a gift shop in Ogunquit, Me., you'd probably pass them by with barely a glance. In a Chelsea gallery, which invites more thoughtful scrutiny, they have a puzzling charm."
- Ken Johnson, New York Times
Of course, if I saw a GOOD painting in a gift shop, a trash can, or anywhere else, I'd probably know it was good.
How'd we get to the point where art is excused from being good?
How do people work up the energy to make such boring art?
"Maureen Gallace" is up through Sep. 3 at the Art Institute of Chicago.
John Minkoff comes from New Jersey and has been a midwesterner about half his life. Formerly a guitarist and co-songwriter in the band Enormous Richard and its spinoff Eleanor Roosevelt, he is now a Chicago-area painter who has shown at, among other venues, the University Club of Chicago, Lyon College in Arkansas, and Mitchell Place Gallery in Muncie, IN. His work can be viewed at johnminkoff.com, an under construction but worth-checking-out website.