December 11, 2014

Mari Oshima at Shirley Fiterman Art Center

Mari Oshima’s “Unlimited” is on view in Paper Reveries, a show at the Shirley Fiterman Art Center of the Borough of Manhattan Community College in Lower Manhattan. The show runs until February 9, 2015. See Mari Oshima's page on our website.

October 31, 2014

Kang Hoodoo

A Note on Zulu Painting.

As it happens I have an appreciable Zulu painting by Todd Bienvenu now hanging in the stairwell of a Park Slope double-wide. It is a brown and creamy splotch of a thing, with lots of subtle greens and blues, and it goes with the colors of the brownstone. It looks as if a house painter used the canvas for cleaning brushes, and left some of his own thoughts as well. A wonderful wipeout of a painting, full of deft brushwork and slights of hand.

Todd Bienvenu, Stooges, 2013

Stooges, by Todd Bienvenu, deserves a great foyer in a Brooklyn mansion somewhere. It's fitting for reception areas, a mischievous "whatever" with a humorous tone. Cool and welcoming, and tasteful. Brownish and creamy shit-colors and throwaway chicken guts comport beautifully with the patina of any distressed hardwood interior in the borough. It is a painting that lends itself to furniture, as furnishing, for the location, for the occasion. A polite, decorative painting, and also snapped like a table cloth from under a banquet. Exceedingly well juggled, and all wrapped up in a mud-ball of brownish baroque. Just a big beautiful rumpus of a painting that doesn't care what you think.

It was serendipity that just as I finished installing this painting in the Greco-Victorian hallway of the building, there appeared Basquiat and the Bayou at some "Confederate Museum" in New Orleans.

In that moment it hit me like a coconut on the head ... that there really is such a thing as zombie painting, or voodoo, or Zulu painting, whatever you want to call it. It is a subculture in painting that excels at what an art critic might euphemistically call "canceling maneuvers" or "abject expressions of defiance or refusal" or simply "insouciance."

Jean-Michel Basquiat, King Zulu, 1986

Robert St. Brice (20th cent. Haitian) signed, oil on board, Voodoo face, 29" x 25" Robert St. Brice was one of the very few first generation Haitian painters who was totally unique. His brand of voodoo expressionism straight from his psyche is totally unique and powerful. So much so he was the inspiration or father of the Saint Soleil genre that is in such demand today, but still no one painted like St. Brice. From this website.

Stooges, Installation View

Todd Bienvenu's work is by no means limited to the zombie theme, he's not some goth obsessive. He is better known for his lurid scenes of American life, wrestling, girls, beer culture, and so on. We just happen to have a few gems at the gallery from his earlier and more abstract zombie phase. "Stooges" is looking for placement in a top-notch residence anywhere in the city. "Spitfire" is a high note in Bienvenu's zombie period. In one bullseye after another his work covers an ample range of human experiences and foibles.

Todd Bienvenu, Spitfire, 2013

Todd Bienvenu, Spitfire, 2013, Detail

Two years of Todd Bienvenu in Bushwick is already a national treasure, a pristine document in style and place of a reviled and envied hepitude. Bienvenu's world is usually presented as an allegory, where the "great white trash" of America stands in for a pastural meditation, like an old dixie rococo painting, upon what is really a complex urban life. Since my gallery has a history with this painter, I can only say we are soon to be safely in the dust of his career, I'm sure. This painting, Stooges, is that dust perhaps. It is a premier brownstone hallway painting, a glorious splotch, stylishly replete with astringent maneuvers in abstraction and figuration. The painting is all cancellations and cross-outs, a lateral dive across language ... with zombies. And it coheres, it hangs together in its localized drama, and in its very human stain as painting.

Stooges, Installation View

Donald Baechler, Untitled ("globe"), 1984

A brutal moment leaves a skid mark on the document of painting. Donald Baechler and Rick Prol may not have been zombie painters, or they may have been at one time or another, I don't know. They might as well have been, I don't care. By zombie painting I do not just mean some special instance of outsider folk art. Rather, I mean the insult carried from outsider folk art into the avant-garde, as a deliberate strategy. This dodge does not come only under the sign of the zombie. Though it comes often enough under that motif, it is really one of several related strategies that pertain to art as resistance.

Several painters in the East Village in the 1980s detected a fault line between the "visual culture" of the postmodernists, and the "visuality" that was preferred by the old school painters. They tore up that fault line. They decided to insult painters and conceptualists in one go. Hoodoo painting is one example of this trend from the strange afternoon of the East Village scene. Strong icons are needed to rattle the cage of painting, and there is nothing in the universe of aesthetic experience quite like the rooster-strut of a Haitian or a Bayou zombie. It is a treasured vernacular of the American continent.

Rick Prol, I Have This Cat, 1985, acrylic on canvas, wood, and glass, 96 x 93 in.

"If painting is dead, well then, here's a painting of a zombie."
— Todd Bienvenu, 2013

This, by the way, is zombie criticism. It has no real existence. I represent Todd Bienvenu, I sell his work. And so of course I like it. Obviously I am a big fan. You may call this is an advertisement. All the same, important announcements about the artist are in order. Someone must note that Todd Bienvenu is teaching in Louisiana right now, just as the Basquiat "bayou paintings" go on exhibit there. 

John d'Addario in his piece in Hyperallergic informs us that the Mississippi had a powerful imaginative influence on Basquiat, a Brooklynite of Haitian and Puerto Rican parentage whose actual experience of the US South was limited. Todd Bienvenu comes from Louisiana with Cajun roots. And these two American painters bare comparison, I submit, and have said in the past, in that each is a trenchantly original painter of zombies.

Zombie aesthetics are folk art entangled in the ganglion of fine art. The zombie is the atavistic feature of a discourse; the twitching of the insensate. It is the chicken man in Blue Velvet. It serves to rend the wall of intelligibility. What Basquiat and Bienvenu, and Prol and Baechler do is to acknowledge unintelligibility in art. The painting is the document of a mistake, and the artist is ready to abandon art as the critics do. That is, in haste, with Adorno, and just as readily. And I like a painting that has no scruples about such things.

— Ethan Pettit, 31 October 2014

Todd Bienvenu, Zombie Apocalypse, 2013

October 30, 2014

I'm the only hell my mama ever raised

The thing I love about this painting, is that we have a girl who is sixteen? Absolutely beautiful and stubborn white trash. She already knows she doesn't have to live here. She knows she can waltz out into the big world any day and get plenty for what she's got. That's not the problem. The problem for her at this point is just how to make the first move.

I'm the only hell my mama ever raised, Todd Bienvenu, 2014

October 8, 2014

Jan Holthoff Opening in Cologne Oct 24

Following his Abstract Strategies, the group show Jan Holthoff curated in Düsseldorf last month, comes a solo show at Martina Kaiser Contemporary Art in Cologne. Jan is also in our present group show Full House East, which runs through October.

September 29, 2014

Full House East - Reception This Friday

Our long-running group show was initiated by David Rich and Paulette Myers-Rich in St Paul Minnesota back in July as Full House West. The show migrated to our gallery in Park Slope Brooklyn in early September, and it will remain up until November 2nd.

August 21, 2014

Thangka Painting with Sonam Rinzin Starts Sept. 20

Starting Saturday, September 20th, renowned artist and teacher Sonam Rinzin will be giving classes on the Tibetan art of Thangka painting and drawing at the gallery in Park Slope, Brooklyn. See details here.

July 11, 2014

Full House West - Opens July 25th in St. Paul, MN

Full House West, a visual dialogue between painters from Saint Paul, Minnesota and NYC, brought together by Paulette Myers-Rich and David Rich, opens on Friday, July 25th. This show coincides with Full House (east), which will commence in August and run through September 2014 at ethan pettit gallery.

June 16, 2014

Barbara Friedman - Closing Party

Please join us on Sunday, June 22, from 6PM-midnight, at a Closing Party for Barbara Friedman's show DEPORTRAITURE.

Location details are here.

June 5, 2014

KB in Venice

Pool Cue Archery Bow Cello from 1981, is one of a large group of Ken Butler's pieces now on display in Art or Sound, a survey that spans four centuries of musical instruments and curiosities.

The mere fact that the esteemed founder of "Arte Povera" Germano Celant has chosen to put Ken Butler in any show is a cause for comment, never mind what the show is about. As it happens this is not exactly an Arte Povera show, but rather an historical survey of musical objects from over the course of four centuries. It is, however, a bit of a curatorial "spill" in the manner of Arte Povera. Very old decorative artifacts and sundry pieces of Weimar whimsy are rolled out into the company of objects from the historical avant-garde.

Antiques are pressed into the service of conceptual art, and all the objects in the show concern "the relationship between art and sound" or the "iconic aspect" of musical instruments. Never mind the context or the century of origin of anything, there is a theory that carries them all in a Prada handbag, whose foundation is sponsoring the show. So it is a good chance to see some beautiful and interesting objects from all over the map, and some really dull moves from the 1970s as well.

Adolphe Sax, Natural Trumpet, 1866–84, brass

But I will say this, Ken Butler's "hybrid visions" stand up to an Adolphe Sax trumpet or a dazzling old street organ, as much as they stand out against the stylistic uniformity of most of the avant-garde and postmodern representation here. Butler really is a new species in the art world, and in Venice it shows. His work has old world charm, and it looks and feels snappy in the generally mortified acres of assemblage art of our times.

I'll venture that Butler's work is the lynchpin of this show. His work is historically sensitive to the older artifacts. It responds to the antique functional objects as well as it does to the newer and patently art historical pieces. And what's more, Ken Butler's instruments are thoroughly and all about the confluence of objects and sounds.

Musical Chairs, roto-picker (for 8 chairs and channels) concept drawing 23.5 x 18 in. 2005. See enhanced album of these drawings.

Rifle Cello, exhibited at Test-Site in Williamsburg, early 1990s

Art or Sound, June 7 - November 3, 2014
Ken Butler's page on our website

May 19, 2014

Deportraiture: Recent Paintings by Barbara Friedman

April 20 - June 29, 2014
Opening Reception: Saturday, April 19, 6-9PM

Barbara Friedman, Cropped Gertrude, oil on linen 2014

May 3, 2014

BLASTA! - a thought about allegory in immersive art

Vlasta Volcano, Signs Along the Road, at Art in General, 1993
A good friend who is Serbian brought to my attention early this year, a piece made by Vlasta Volcano some 20 years ago for a show at Art in General about Yugoslav identity. I must say the "Yugoslav identity" dimension of the work was lost on me when I first encountered it in photos. Volcano was a member of the Immersive scene in Williamsburg, and so my initial response to this work of his was from that perspective. Here’s what I wrote about it almost a year ago:
They are figures, like Rodin or Giacometti, except they appear in abject material in a desolate place. Out of the bubbling coils of melting rubber, phantoms peel out and spring to life ... on a ghetto beach, oh brave new world. From an artist's hand light of touch, comes a first rate exposition in Vlasta's work of a certain ... insouciant minimalism of warehouse art of the time. A very simple process, burn rubber tires on the waterfront. A regular fine art foundry. And why not. Everyone else is doing it. If you can have machine shops and fabricators making your art, it stands to reason that you should make art at the ass end of industry as well. Off the schmelting rubber come leaping lords and hipstresses. Vlasta did not draw or paint, he lit a fire, and he caught our shadows all the same. 
— Ethan, January 6, 2014

1992-93 was a very dark time in Yugoslavia, and there were a number of Serbs and Croats in the local art scene. As it happened I fell in with that crowd for a while. My friend Jelena Tomic is Serbian by way of Paris, I introduced her to my old friend Ivan Kustura, who is Croatian and a painter whom I knew from a circle of Greenpoint artists in the mid-80s. And soon we were drinking at Teddy's with eight or nine other Yugoslavians.

Vlasta Volcano, from photos taken between 1990-93.

Volcano is Serbian, and I knew him the way people in close art communities know each other. That is to say, like family, even though we rarely ever spoke to each other. Though I do recall one funny exchange with him at El Sensorium some 20 years ago. Volcano was wearing a strip of duct tape over his mouth for most of that evening. At some point I caught him without the tape, and I asked him if he thought the phenomenon of fame and celebrity might be an evolutionary precursor to some form of social telepathy that might become highly articulated in another 40 thousand years or so.

“Could be” he said.

Volcano was in the group Floating Point Unit for a while, a principal branch of Immersionism, and he always struck me as a most chill and immersive dude indeed. I called him “Blasta.” But I am only now connecting with this artist’s interesting work and its position in the Brooklyn movement.

I gather this work is made from burnt or unravelled automobile tires. I do think it is Rodin-like, in the sense that it is form achieved in a release of energy and raw materiality. It is exemplary immersive sculpture. A calculated event in material. He uses no arty trappings or skills known to the genres. A process will be deployed, upon such material as is readily available. No rules of the minimalists are broken. But a completely different world from theirs is revealed.

In 1998 Craig Owens located the “allegorical impulse” within minimalism and material art, and extended it to the postmodern art that followed. The immersive artists are also allegorical, but they absorbed this irritating chestnut from the history of art in a different way. They turned away from the analytic approach that was prevalent in the 80s, and used a synthetic approach closer to the materialist aesthetics of an earlier era. But instead of being denuded of allegory or approaching it in a measured and astringent manner such as in the work of Robert Smithson or Robert Morris, we have in immersive sculpture an art that is saturated, bloated, impregnated with senses of allegory and narrative. This may be one reason why this movement was at once so seductive to so many thousands who experienced it as entertainment, but maybe not symbolically explicit enough for many people in the art world at that time.

When Lauren Szold was making her seminal immersive work in Williamsburg in 1990-91, and when I interviewed her at that time, she spoke about the meanings embedded in raw material, and that she tried to avoid obvious cultural references; objects and symbols plucked wholesale from the culture. It is characteristic of a lot of immersive work that narrative is ingrained in the material and the process, but not forced through symbolism. Dennis Del Zotto's polystyrene structures come to mind, as does the “plastic fog” of Frank Shifreen at the Flytrap in 1991. And of course many of the the schemes of Lalalandia are exemplary in this regard.

The only catch here with using the term “allegory” in this connection, is that this term has a precise meaning in literature and art. It means to tell one story by means of another, and usually this means to recover some aspect of the past, of history usually, and pitch it as a new “story” that can be comprehended by a present-day audience. Napoleon as Caesar for example. But when we get into modern speculations about allegory, the term can be conflated with other concepts about language and signs. Still, even if we take liberties with the definition, allegory is a resilient attribute of our relationship to aesthetic experience. It may not appear in present-day art in a literal “this-for-that” formulation, but allegory may be mixed in with the aggregate, so to speak, of a concrete and material form of art.

Volcano's work here is an example of allegory in immersive sculpture. It clearly suggests a lively narrative space, but it just as easily can stand for nothing but process and material. And it's funny!

Volcano, early- to mid-90s, with friends. Brooklyn or lower Manhattan. Photo by Megan Raddant
See my Facebook album on Immersionism

January 5, 2014