Posts Tagged ‘Anton Kern Gallery’

Action Figures

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Dan McCarthy’s  fifth solo show at Anton Kern Gallery features deceptively brushy new paintings and drawings, and more than thirty Facepots – McCarthy’s ceramic vessels pegged with facial features.

Dan McCarthy at Anton Kern Gallery (Image: Anton Kern Gallery)

These images look simple and iconic, yet highly expressive.  The titles derive from rock album titles, while McCarthy’s subject matter seems to focus on a universalized summer of love, where individuals dance and revel, play guitar, skate, and commingle with birds – most of this while naked.  Gender is evident through bare breasts and phallic guitars, but it feels like a loose suggestion. Everyone in the paintings seems gleeful, perhaps aglow with sexual liberation.  That’s less true in the drawings, where the aforementioned birds seem too close for comfort.

Through an innovative process, McCarthy transfers these images, like monoprints, from a painted to canvas to another one, which is slathered with layers of marbleized gesso.  His figures are luminous with Easter-egg hues that could convey emotional states, colored festival lighting, or the magic hour around sunset.  Either way, the colors transplant their bearers to a higher order, where origin and language lose priority to immediacy and joie de vivre.

Dan McCarthy, "Peach Tree," 2013 (l) and "Partridge Family," 2013 (r) (Images: Anton Kern Gallery)

That is not to say that they are beautiful by conventional standards of appearance.  McCarthy does not tantalize us with titillating curves, attenuated midriffs, and defined muscles, which we might anticipate when pondering a Rite of Spring or utopian summer festival.  Then again, ecstatic liberty and play are more beautiful features than chiseled abs, aren’t they?

But what utopia is not engineered?  The chromatic, dancing figures remind me of the Crakers, the genetically engineered post-humans of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.  Here is how Crakers mate:

“There’ll be the standard quintuplet, four men and the woman in heat.  Her condition will be obvious to all from the bright-blue colour of her buttocks and abdomen – a trick of variable pigmentation filched from the baboons with a contribution from the expandable chromosphores of the octopus. … Courtship begins at the first whiff, the first faint blush of azure, with the males presenting flowers to the females – just as male penguins present round stones, said Crake, or as the male silverfish presents a sperm packet.  At the same time they indulge in musical outbursts, like songbirds. Their penises turn bright blue to match the blue abdomens of the females, and they do a sort of blue-dick dance number, erect members waving to and fro in unison, in time to the foot movements and the singing: a feature suggested to Crake by the sexual semaphoring of crabs. From amongst the floral tributes the female chooses four flowers, and the sexual ardour of the unsuccessful candidates dissipates immediately, with no hard feelings left.  Then, when the blue of her abdomen has reached its deepest shade, the female and her quartet find a secluded spot and go at it until the woman becomes pregnant and her blue colouring fades.  And that is that.”  

Like the gift round stones above, the glossy Facepots supplement the action.  They smile mutely; they are Mr.-Potato-Head caryatids, or graven sock-puppet ancestral busts.  The bright colors and bite-size scale might remind a viewer of candy, peppers, and fruit while studying the eyes, noses, and mouths of these ceramic faces.

"Facepots" by Dan McCarthy (Images: Anton Kern Gallery)

Dan McCarthy at Anton Kern Gallery (Image: Anton Kern Gallery)

 The Facepots series also serves as a bridge to McCarthy’s drawings in the back (maybe an Anton Kern Gallery tradition).  Here, the birds seem ready, or at least capable, to menace the splotchy faces, pecking at the eyes and mouths.  One blue bird either kisses or pecks at the cheek of a pompadoured face with a Joker smile.  Similarly ambiguous rictus-to-rictus contact occurs between a crying face and a blue hummingbird.  Finally, a canary seems to scale the disheveled face of a redhead with blue tongue sticking out, as if that head is turned on its side.  Who trusts who more?







Jungle Feeler

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Long lines to see at Mark Grotjahn’s Nine Faces at Anton Kern Gallery.  They are lines but they aren’t “lined.”  Rather than ruling an edge or tracing an arc, Mark Grotjahn strings along atomic, individual kisses from the brush. The punctual daub, the incipient line.  Each line, like a bow or branch mingles with others until forming a thicket.  Thickets group into a bramble.

The line widths, parallel tendencies, and tubular volume could derive from the corrugated cardboard beneath them.  But what about the emergent faces, from which Grotjahn supposedly derives his paintings?  Perhaps the process is to reconcile the ribbed plane of the cardboard ground with the transverse arcs of the face.  Ten-line highway meets frog.  Grotjahn’s lines are fortified with overlapping segments of impasto paint.  Where the brush pulled away from the surface, the paint rises in low relief with tantalizing, glistening rivulets, each delicious like an oiled Brazilian rockclimber blowing kisses from the granite cliff he climbs.  Over and over again, from edge to edge.

MG, "Untitled (Lotus Paul Signac Face 41.31)," 2010 (detail)

Halved, Ohm

“The radiating, ricocheting lines never submit; the flaring planes never emerge,” writes Roberta Smith on Mark Grotjahn’s Nine Faces.  Irresistible force meets immovable object.  “The faces hold their own, if just barely, to affirm in staunchly contemporary terms the human presence behind all art.”

Mindy Shapero, "almost every color and silver leaf ghosthead guide that will bring you to the ghosthead god, you can only visualize the guide when you have entered a monsterhead, and you first have to be serene enough to be able to even see the monsterheads before you can wear one.," 2006

Like narrating a nature documentary, she’s poetically, rightfully comparing to interspecies struggle – overwhelming predators versus resistant prey – the formal trials underway in Mark Grotjahn’s larger-than-life-sized, oil on cardboard on linen paintings.

"Untitled (Geo Abstract Reveal Face 41.61)," 2011

It doesn’t end with self-indicating dots and dashes, but it also doesn’t continue toward connecting the dots and dashes into conclusive images.  Microscopically parsing his fundamental markmaking, she plants Grotjahn in the Abstraction Jungle, but gazing, perhaps condescendingly, at Figuration City.


She’s also describing Mark Grotjahn’s straddling stance between modernism and the art of today. He is beyond subjective markmaking but short of the framework unto objective imagery – or back from it.

"Untitled (Lotus Paul Signac Face 41.31)," 2010

-The perplexing state that he is in; her puzzling writing on the wall.  First, how can one be staunch while still being contemporary?  “Staunch” is the folded forearms of modernism, the tight lips of rigid history.   And doesn’t this look like painting you might have found 60 years ago hanging in carpeted galleries on the Upper East Side?

Faceless: Philip Guston's "Painting", 1954

But if it is staunchly contemporary, than what is it staunch against?  “Staunchly” invokes refusal, steadfastness, Ironclad.  What does the Contemporary refuse?  Maybe the facelessness of abstract expressionism, where a lot of individualism went into the work, but a lot of monolithic masks were the closest we got to faces?  Maybe the adventitiously illustrative digressions of the academic masters before that?  Then, how would the Contemporary feel about surrealist and AbEx face-friendlies like Miró, or facebreakers like Picasso?

Page 32, Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud

Half Dome Harry, by me

Grotjahn turns his back on the signifying nothing of “pure” abstraction and the gratuitous striptease of imagery and its overpopulation.  He’s back in the jungle, but he remembers the city.

Henri Rousseau, "Two Monkeys in the Jungle," 1909

Les Edwards, album artwork for The Prodigy - "Music for the Jilted Generation" LP, 1994