Monday, October 31, 2016
Posted by Aubrey Levinthal
Kerry James Marshall at the MET Breuer
The main reason I went up to New York last week was to be at the Kerry James Marshall show the day it opened. I knew it would be something and I wanted to make sure to have enough time to get there again before it is over. It was so very good. He filled two floors of the space which used to be the Whitney and hold all the work for the biennials. In fact, my only criticism would be that the show felt hung too tight. His work has such an expansive reach beyond the edges of the composition that it got to be a lot to take in in each room.
But he is a current day master of painting. The use of different languages of paint to not only work formally but narratively is so exciting. In his 1990s 'Gardens' series which depicts different public housing projects with the word 'gardens' in their title (first image) he paints the flowers and landscaping with a speed and scale that references graffiti. The natural world is like a stain on the picture plane, making me think about the fact that it is a painted illusionistic space and what that might imply about how the natural intersects with these real places.
There were so many small references to art history and to his own personal narrative that I enjoyed too. The left detail above is a more overt and playful example, using Holbein's perspective trick from The Ambassadors painting in his current day depiction of a beauty shop. The detail on the right, from another painting shows the shop from outside on the street. So the paintings connected beyond their perimeters to form larger narratives in really satisfying ways.
They also had KJM select 40 works from the Met's collection to go alongside his work in a back gallery. I really enjoyed that glimpse into his interests which made so much sense but were so varied and thought it was a good way for a museum to host and augment a solo survey show.
I also caught the Gagosian's Nudes show on its last day which was enjoyable. Some little gems from Cezanne, Schiele, Giacometti. Some paintings I hated but haven't seen in person much like John Currin (I don't care that they are commenting on misogyny, in this climate they feel like the same old excuse to paint a young vulnerable girl which is simultaneously boring and disgusting). Also the image on the right is an early Modigliani. I had no idea he could make a painting I liked.
These are the times I wish I taught in NY. I have a life painting class at PAFA this semester and a lot of the points I am trying to make about content, how vast the read on a nude figure can be depending on how it is painted are not yet connecting. This show made those points so painfully clear, would be great to have a place to discuss work like this in person.
The last thing I thought very good and worth mentioning was Arlene Shechet at Sikkema Jenkins. Really stunning sculptural work in person. The back room had a show of Merlin James, whose work I can't make up my mind on. I don't think I'm so into it but I did like this one painting below a lot.