Lat night I attend Michael Asher's opening at the Santa Monica Museum of Art (more on that later). Beforehand I stopped by Track 16 for a look at the Doug Harvey-curated painting show. As expected the LA Times' Christopher Knight--official fluffer of painting's corpse--gave the show rave reviews.
I couldn't help but think of some of the feelings I had while looking at paintings this Summer at the Venice Biennale. Most of the work on canvas that held my attention was the stuff by earlier generations of painters. For those who were involved in the historical conversation around painting--before it became historical--it makes sense to continue the conversation. Likewise, the strong work at Bergamot Station came from the older artists. Mat Gleason had a different take on the age skew of the show when he blogged, "Doug Harvey Mines the AARP." His take makes sense when you see he curated "8 under 28," at Gallery C. Mat goes on to say:
Many of the artists in the show told me off the record that the sum total of Doug’s curating was to say “Give me a big painting. Real big.” - so you understand that the show is more about Doug Harvey overhanging pictures as a reflexive defense mechanism against being criticized. Paintings are placed on walls they will just fit on, there, the end.But who am I to cast stones when I harbor my own artistic paraphilias? Only this (which I've typed before): my personal view is that the idea comes first. The next step is to find the best way to express that idea, and THEN pick up a brush, or chisel, or video camera, or whatever's necessary to express that idea. I think there are people in the show who do this, from oldsters like Jim Shaw and youngsters like Mike Chang. I also love the incongruity of Monica Majoli's watercolors paired with queer kink and lush landscapes.
Like a drunk frat boy looking at the hot sorority girl and mumbling “Tits. Big Tits,” the fact that Ninety Five percent of these paintings are terrible doesn’t matter – they’re all just so big, that is all that matters. The sorority girl’s personality and possible STDs don’t matter, it is just the club she is in and the size of those headlights.
There was plenty to look at that was worthwhile, but like last year's Venice or Documenta shows, the show looked like the curator thew everything into the pot, and hoped that there would be something for everyone to like. But where's the curating in that? Even Mr Knight thinks there was an "absurdly large" number of works in the show.
Afterwards I kept thinking of the title of the show, "Some Paintings." It's a riff on the Stones' song from their Some Girls album. Like painting, the Rolling Stones where at a point in their career where it seemed that musical tastes had passed them by. I was in high school, and everything from disco to punk covered musical tastes from the pandering to the profane. Rather than fade away, the Rolling Stones covered the genres with the album's Miss You and Shattered.
There's a metaphor in there somewhere: is the medium of painting is the old, wrinkled, but still rockin' Keith Richards and Mick Jagger? Or like disco in the 70's, it's what sells.