Saturday, June 23, 2007

Book Report and more on Phantasmania...

Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him was an extremely satisfying novel for revealing hypocrisy in the contemporary art world, but it is quite light... a good novel for the beach or vacation. It qualifies as "chick lit": written from a gallerina point of view, all the art terms are explained to the reader, which interrupts the flow of the story and takes away from the protagonist's voice, but I found it enjoyable just the same. Larry Gagosian claims that "She got it right."

Finally, as promised (I forgot to bring the catalog to San Diego with me), an elaboration on the Phantasmania show I waxed on about. As I (think I) said, this exhibition almost single-handedly restored my faith in the next generation of painters. (There were sculptures there, including a really wonderful installation by Jon Pylypchuk, but it was really the two dimensional stuff that blew me away.) The show was an amazing assembly of related, but disparate, imagery, coupled with consistently well-executed exploration of media. It has been a long time since I have seen so many finely crafted paintings with resonant imagery in one space.

Part of the power, I confess, is that I simply grooved on the subject matter. "Phantasm" is defined as
  1. Something apparently seen but having no physical reality; a phantom or an apparition. Also called phantasma.
  2. An illusory mental image. Also called phantasma.
  3. In Platonic philosophy, objective reality as perceived and distorted by the five senses.
A few years ago, a reviewer described my work as "phantasmagoric", which pleased me to no end when I read the dictionary definition ("A fantastic sequence of haphazardly associative imagery, as seen in dreams or fever").

So the imagery was haunting, and many of the painting techniques were compelling. Several artists used masking film: Andrew Sendor paints anonymous, sometimes distorted, Victorian figures with oil on shiny (black or colored) plexi, then peels off the film to reveal swaths of shiny surface that visually cut into the images. Wendell Gladstone uses masking techniques, among others, to develop layers of texture: hard to read in jpegs, the surface is lusciously tactile in person. Dan Attoe insets tiny mini-vignettes, complete with satellite subconscious utterances in text, into grand sublime landscapes to build a kind of neurotic psychological tension. Shiri Mordechay employs a seemingly infinite variety of media to create gorgeous obsessive imagery that plays with, and tears through, the surface of the paper. The tiny hard-edged paintings of James Benjamin Franklin are simplistic in form, but highly charged, with a seductive surface of Flashe paint covered with resin. I also loved the imagery of Anna Conway, Jules de Balincourt, and obsessive pencil drawings by Adam Helms. Kelly McLane used an interesting, dream-like technique of oil washes over graphite: the form marries so well to the content. As I try to find jpegs to show you, I realize that, (as these artists are all fairly young), the images that are available are rarely the great ones that I actually saw, and the images I can find are often not always as developed as the ones in the exhibition. Shiri Mordechay and Dan Attoe were my favorites in the exhibition, and the works I find online pale by comparison to what was hanging on the walls at the Kemper museum. It was an outstanding selection of work by the artists mentioned. Get the catalog.

In said catalog, curator Elizabeth Dunbar writes, "All of the artists included in Phantasmania wrestle with a world gone astray by distancing themselves from the present and reverting to the interior spaces of the mind... these artists are united by their common use of (mostly) playful fantasy and make-believe to create psychologically charged realms suffused with a critique of reality."

So the works are an escape from the constant media barrage of disasters and horror in form (referencing Surrealism, Romantic Painting, or Symbolism), often infused with a simultaneous reference to the current day in subject matter.
The Kansas City Star Review is here.

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