The Forever Now

August 5, 2017 | Author: cowley75 | Category: Abstract Art, Paintings
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By Laura Hoptman...


Laura Hoptman ND

Forever now

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Hoptman, Laura J .






Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World

The Museum ofModernArt, New York




Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World

Laura Hoptman


hat characterizes our cultural moment at the beginning of this new millennium is the inability-or perhaps the refusal-of a great many of our cultural artifacts to define the times in which we live. This is an unsettling and wholly unique phenomenon in Western culture and it should come as no surprise that it was first identified by a science-fiction writer, William Gibson, who in 2003 used the word atemporality to describe a new and strange state of the world in which, courtesy of the Internet, all eras seem to exist at once. Since that time, atemporality has been observed in literature, popular music, and fashion, and subsequently called many different names, including retromania, hauntology, presentism, and super-hybridity. 2



2 Retromania, music critic Reynolds's

the exhibition Hauntoiogy at the Berkeley Art

Addiction to its Own Past (New York: Faber

book-length exegesis of the state of popular

Museum (July 14-December 5, 2010). Curated

and Faber, 2011), 397. Gibson and subsequently

music since the end of the 1990s, is the most

by Scott Hewicker and Lawrence Rinder, the

Bruce Sterling, who coined the term "steam-

extensive study of the different strategies that

exhibition looked at hauntology as metaphor,

punk," are cited as the first responders in a

pop musicians use to make atemporal music,

presenting art with the themes of memory,

1 Simon Reynolds, Retromania: Pop Culture's

growing popular literature devoted to tracking

and a number of his designations, including his

longing, disappearance, melancholy, and so on.

the atemporal across cultural production. It

explanation of sampling, have implications

Presentism is used by Rushkoff in Present

has even been examined as a broad attitudinal

for contemporary visual art. Hauntology stems

Shock (12), and super-hybridity was coined

phenomenon in media theorist Douglas

from the writings of Jacques Derrida, who

by Jiirg Heiser in his "Pick & Mix," frieze 133

Rushkoff's Present Shock: When Everything

used haunting as a metaphor to describe the

(September 2010): 13, and discussed in a round-

Happens Now (New York: Current, 2013).

contemporary state of Marxist thought in his

table conversation in the same issue: "Analyze

book, Spectres of Marx (1993), which inspired

This" (94-102).


All of these terms attempt to describe a cultural product of our time that paradoxically does not represent-either through style, content, or medium-the time from which it comes. The atemporal song, story, or painting contains elements of history but isn't historical; it is innovative but not novel, pertinent rather than prescient. In visual art, atemporality manifests itself as a kind of art-making that is inspired by, refers to, or avails itself of styles, subjects, motifs, materials, strategies, and ideas from an array of periods on the art-historical timeline. Artists have always looked to art history for inspiration, but the immediate and hugely expanded catalogue of visual information offered by the Internet has radically altered visual artists' relationship to the history of art and caused, as the painter Matt Connors puts it, a "redirection of artistic inquiry from strictly forward moving into a kind of super-branched -out questioning." 3 Unlike past periods of revivalism, such as the appropriationist eighties, this super-charged art historicism is neither critical nor ironic; it's not even nostalgic. It is closest to a connoisseurship of boundless information, a picking and choosing of elements of the past to resolve a problem or a task at hand. Connors, one of the most self-conscious and thoughtful practitioners of atemporal art, understands his work not as a representation of a point in the art-historical past, but as part of a very new, very broad notion of a network of possibilities that stretches horizontally across time periods. He makes clear that his work does not fit easily within the art-historical matrix of influence, affinity, and context, because its subject is, in essence, the sum of these. When queried recently about his sources, he points to a genealogy of influence that includes artists from a large section of the postwar art-historical map: in addition to the Abstract Expressionists and Color Field painters whom he mentions generally, he cites Henri Matisse, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, Morris Louis, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Ryman, Paul Feeley, Kenneth Noland, Yves Klein, Daniel Buren, Martin Barre, Olivier Mosset, Blinky Palermo, Gerhard Richter, Martin Kippenberger, Imi Knoebel, and Sigmar Polke.4 Looking at one ofhis highly saturated monochromes in the color of a Los Angeles sunset, one can only agree that, against the better judgment of our teleologically programmed brains, all of those references are there.

3 Matt Connors, quoted in Christopher Bedford, "Dear Painter," frieze (March 2012): 104.

4 Ibid.

7' ~ \,




This use and assimilation of dizzying varieties of sources have pseudomorphic relationships to appropriation in the 1980s sense of the word, the weapon of choice for the postmodern critique of originality, the object, and the institution. More than thirty years on, one can argue that these battles are over, perhaps even won, or at least that artists aren't interested in fighting them any longer. In the eighties, artists lifted images and styles from art history and pop culture and dropped them in the arena of contemporary art as if they were toxic readymades, stripped of their auras of power and persuasion through decontextualization. In this new economy of surplus historical references, the makers take what they wish to make their point or their painting without guilt, and equally important, without an agenda based on a received meaning of a style. If one can use something with originality, it is the same as authoring it oneself.S As the Colombian-born, London-based painter Oscar Murillo says bluntly: "We have everything available and we can just use what's there and around, but not feel concerned by it."6 Murillo is not saying that there are no stakes involved in borrowing from the freighted language ofEuro-American modernism. Rather he is reminding those of us with long memories of the opening salvo of postmodern critique: that the stakes have irrevocably changed. The transfer of styles, of motifs, of ideas, from a historical context to the present one does not reinforce their obsolescence. In fact, the opposite occurs. In the atemporal present, they are resurrected and made newly relevant. At this moment in time we can look back at the condition of postmodernism and say, "Yup, that happened." And then we can observe, "Now, there's this." A work of art that refutes the possibility of chronological classification offers a dramatic challenge to the structure that disciplines like art history enforce-the great, ladder-like narrative of cultural progress that is so dependent upon the idea of the new superseding the old in a movement simultaneously forward and upward. This is not the first time that there have been challenges to the construct of historical progress/ and in a sense it is not progress as such that is at stake in this new, atemporal universe. Time-based terms like progressive-and its opposite, reactionary, avant- and arriere-garde-are oflittle use to describe atemporal works of art.

5 Johanna Burton discusses this idea in "Not the Last Word," Artforum (September

2009): 270-71.

Oscar Murillo: work (Miami: Rubel I Family

While Kubler suggested a less "biological"

Collection, 2012), 60.

model for historical development, he never

7 For example, see George Kubler's The

6 Oscar Murillo, quoted in Hans Ulrich

Shape of Time: Remarks on the History

questioned the notion of progress. Neither did Fukuyama, who argued that in terms of

Obrist, "Hans Ulrich Obrist Interview with

of Things (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University

political formations of society, we had reached

Oscar Murillo," in Juan Roselione-Valadez, ed.,

Press, 1962) or conservative pundit Francis

the apex.

Fukuyama's 1989 book The End of History.


It would be more accurate and more poetic to understand them as existing in the

eternal present. 8 This is a temporal state in which, to optimistic prognosticators, the past and the future have been made available simultaneously. Instead of an information superhighway,9 we can picture the eternal present as an endlessly flat surface with vistas in every direction-not unlike the surface of a painting.


n 2007, the journalist Chris Anderson introduced the theory of the "Long Tail," originally formulated to modify international marketing strategies. 10 The theory holds that beginning at the turn of the millennium, with the explosion of digital possibilities for dissemination of products, it became possible to have economic success if a large number of products were each consumed by a small, subgroup of consumers. This phenomenon of the few patronizing the many turned traditional marketing theory on its head because it obviated the economic necessity of an enormous, international cohort of people coalescing around one particular song, or cola, or dress length. This evolution away from the "hit," encourages the proliferation of myriad genres and subgenres of products, each of which appeals to its own microcommunity. The Long Tail theory has a peculiar relevance to visual culture in the wake of information delivery systems like the Internet and, more recently, the smartphone, that have made visual art available not only to artists and critics, but also to a growing consumer base. These tools allow us to access data contemporaneously (despite the date of manufacture) and non-hierarchically,n erasing time-honored indicators of significance and value. One result of this is the enormous, international expansion of the contemporary art discourse. Another is that, arguably, today's landscape of visual culture is no longer entirely ruled by a handful of hegemonic styles or monster artistic careers. Even artists like Jeff Koons and Marina Abramovic, whose oeuvres have received worldwide recognition, and whose personas have penetrated, to a certain extent, popular culture, have not produced


8 This is a concept used by St. Augustine to describe the divine chronology, in which all is known of the past, present, and future. See Augustine: Confessions, Book XI. 9 The use of the term in the early 1990s


is often associated with U.S. Senator AI Gore (later Vice President). 10 Chris Anderson, The Long Tail: Why

the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More (New York: Hyperion, 2006).

11 The Internet abets this flattening of hierarchies because it allows users to access digital data non-sequentially. Rushkoff, Present

Shock, 260.

signature artistic languages dominant enough to obliterate the general cacophony of styles that continues to flourish in studios, art schools, museums, galleries, and magazines. 12 For many critics, the absence of stylistic markers indicates the demise of a common culture, a deeply troubling development, which at best implies cultural stasis, and at worst, cultural surrender. 13 "We live in a post-era era without forms of its own powerful enough to brand the times," lamented the writer Douglas Coupland in an article in which he introduced literary atemporality, which he dubbed "translit." 14 Pop-music critic Simon Reynolds, who coined the term retromania to describe contemporary pop music in the a ugh ties, also sees the erosion of era-defining genres as an intellectual dead end/5 "We're quite deep into a phase of anything-goes, guiltless appropriation, a free-for-all of asset-stripping that ranges all over the globe and all across the span of human history," he writes. "This leads to the paradoxical combination of speed and standstill." 16 Although, Reynolds explains, we have the possibility of"rapid movement within a network of knowledge," he concludes with regret that we lack the modernism-fueled creative moxie that characterized the twentieth century, "the outward-bound drive that propelled an entire system into the unknown." 17 Without this jet pack driving us to a common creative future, Reynolds is despairing of contemporary music, and by extension, contemporary culture. Both Coupland's and Reynolds's observations reveal an acute nostalgia for a time when things were new and a deep mourning for the missing propulsive shot of energy that attended an act of what could be interpreted as cultural progress. But what if, as in William Gibson's original formulation, atemporality was considered as a strategy of resistance, a way of"opting out of the industrialization of novelty," 18 the syndrome of growth and expansion at any cost? What if abstaining

12 In a recent article, Michael Sanchez

zeitgeist-encapsulating exhibitions." Sanchez,

14 Douglas Coupland, "Convergences,"

argues that in the art economy of today, with

"2011: Michael Sanchez on Art and Transmission,"

New York Times, March 11, 2012, Sunday Book

its disempowering of academics, critics,

Artforum (Summer 2013): 297.

Review, 1, 10.

and curators in favor of consumers and sellers, visibility can be equated with legitimation. "Because of the proliferation of an image via

13 In an issue of frieze focused on

15 Simon Reynolds, "The Songs of Now

super-hybridity, a term coined by the critic Jorg

Sound a Lot Like Then," New York Times, July

Heiser (see note 2), art critic Jennifer Allen

17, 2011, AR14.

smartphone," he writes, "what has been a

questions the idea of culture as a mechanism

16 Reynolds, Retromania, 426-27.

process of legitimation, attributable to particular

for communitarianism, arguing that technology

17 Ibid., 428.

institutions or critical bodies, now becomes

is now the greatest aggregator. Allen,

a process of simple visibility, attributable to

"Postmodern Postmortem," frieze 133

the media apparatus itself, largely outside the

(September 2010): 21.

channels of print media and cumbersome

18 David L. Ulin, "Book Review: Zero History by William Gibson," Los Angeles Times, September 19, 2010, http://articles.latimes .com/2010/sep/19/entertainment/la-ca-william -gibson-20100919.


from new aesthetic forms meant gaining new ways of understanding the use of form in light of digital technology and the swift circulation ofknowledge?l9 What if the promiscuous mixing of styles has the positive outcome of providing a mechanism to overcome "oppressive traditions [and] xenophobia?" 20 What if atemporality allowed us to roam around, instead of plow forward? In the language developed to describe postmodernism, the term pastiche was used as a pejorative for the practice of imitating past styles-often in combinations-without the mitigating factor of parody. Pastiche, for Fredric Jameson, a formidable voice of postmodern criticism, was an impediment to the representation of our time, as it blocked our ability to "live time historically,"n cognizant of historical precedent and thus primed to strive for a more evolved condition. Considering atemporality as a goal, rather than an undesirable result, redefines pastiche as a conscious strategy rather than a dodge. Calling out the obsolescence of periodization challenges cultural hierarchies and the insistently twentieth-century habit of considering the history of style as if it were a dog race replete with a winner's circle of those who get the privilege of representing what our moment looks like-as duly noted by art-history books. In a cultural landscape that has, in critic Jorg Heiser's terms, "moved beyond the point where it's about a fixed set of cultural genealogies and instead has turned into a kind of computational aggregate of multiple influences and sources," 22 the "anxiety of influence," in Harold Bloom's deathless parlance, might have found its meds. In Heiser's hopeful picture of the cultural now, courtesy of technology, there are no more "hungry generations ... treading one another down."z3 There are only "the pleasures of intellectual inspiration and perceptual bliss" 24 that can be found in depthless bytes of information. Pastiche is an antidote not only to the dream of originality, but also to the conventional notion of style. Art historian T. J. Clark memorably quipped of Abstract Expressionism that it was "a manner in search of an object;"zs to a certain extent it is accurate to say that a great many contemporary paintings are objects 19 This question is raised in the "Analyze This" round table discussion, frieze (September 2010) (see note 2).

Nostalgia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 2. 22 Heiser, "Pick & Mix," 13. In his

20 Heiser, "Pick & Mix," 13.

discussion of super-hybridity in contemporary

21 Fredric Jameson, Postmodemism, or,

art, Heiser uses the concept of hybridity as

The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham

formulated by Homi Bhabha, who avers that

and London: Duke University Press, 1991), 284.

cultural identity now is not about being

Cited in Vera Dika, Recycled Culture in

somewhere but about being between places.

Contemporary Art and Film: The Uses of

This is a formulation of location rather than time, but it parallels atemporality.


23 Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 6. 24 Heiser, "Pick & Mix," 13. 25 T. J. Clark, "In Defense of Abstract Expressionism," October 69 (Summer 1994): 38.

in search of a manner. It is not exactly that style has become obsolete, 26 but perhaps rather that signifiers of styles-gestures, languages, and strategies-have become motifs. Painters in particular have been using style as a subject unto itself. 2 7 Oscar Murillo's use of calligraphic marks in some of his paintings is an example of this. In some paintings, Murillo incorporates the titles or parts of the titles of the installations of which his canvases are a part, transforming them into a kind of signage. On these canvas signs, very readable words share space with marks and scribbles that read not as writing but as glyphs in the manner of a chain of art-historical precedents, from cave graffiti to Henri Michaux and Cy Twombly. These marks on the canvas function in a similar way to the words with which they share space; they can be read as signs, in the literal sense, of a modernist lineage, creating an aura that suggests, in Murillo's words, that his paintings have been found in or come from "some other space or time." 28 For the past decade, artist Josh Smith has been prolifically painting in a myriad of genres on identically sized canvases. He has produced hundreds of gestural abstractions, expressionistic stilllifes, "name paintings" that feature Smith's signature as the central motif, monochromes, and, most recently, beachscapes in hot, tropical colors. Although the artist paints in series, there is no developmental chronology to the kinds of paintings he makes: paintings of fish are produced simultaneously with wholly abstract works; monochromatic groups appear at the same time as a brace of tropical sunset paintings. Availing himself of color Xerox technology to make more work at a speedier pace, Smith has been known to Xerox his own paintings and glue the results to canvas, sometimes collaging more than one composition together to create yet another kind of abstraction. Smith's attitude towards his own work is polyamorous, and his profligacy in a gene pool of his own creation turns him into a kind of mad breeder. Style for Smith is neither an emotional vehicle, nor an attitude, nor a belief system. It is a subject, in the sense that the flag was a subject for Jasper Johns. When asked about why he painted abstractly, Smith said of his paintings, "I don't care so much about how they look because I know how they look ... they are going to look like abstract paintings." 2 9 When his works first appeared fewer than ten years ago, there was an impulse to see them 26 Coupland has suggested that

27 Reynolds observes this about recent

atemporality can be considered a "bold new

popular music in Ret romania, 307.

perpetual every-era/no-era" style for our

28 Murillo, quoted in Legacy Russell,

moment. Coupland, "Convergences," 10.

"Oscar Murillo," Bomb (Winter 2012-2013): 37.

29 Josh Smith: Abstraction (New York: Luhring Augustine, 2007), n.p. Cited in Daniel Marcus, "Eyes in the Heat: Daniel Marcus on Figuration in Jean Dubuffet, Cathy Wilkes, and Josh Smith," Artforum (Summer 2011): 373.







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as a revival of mid-century American abstraction. Quite quickly, despite the artist's penchant for group hanging or exhibiting works in stacks leaning against a wall, commercial galleries began to exhibit Smith's paintings individually on white walls with plenty of room around them-the better to contemplate them as singular expressions, rather than as the serial examples of a generic notion of abstract painting that they clearly were. Abstraction is a language primed for becoming a representation of itself, because as much as it resists the attribution of specific meanings, the abstract mark cannot help but carry with it an entire utopian history of modern painting. Murillo and Smith are not alone in their acknowledgment of the received meanings of their expressionist marks. It would be difficult to identify a contemporary abstract painter who is not self-consciously referring to that history.3° "How can you look at a drip without thinking ofJackson Pollock or Sigmar Polke?," Kerstin Bratsch asked rhetorically during a recorded conversation with painter Amy Sillman. An abstract gesture is "not empty anymore but loaded with historical reference."3 1 It is characteristic of an atemporal painter to see and utilize style, as if it is a bit of iconography; some even use specific stylistic gestures and strategies in a manner akin to a medium. What atemporal painters do not do is use a past style in an uninflected manner; in other words, as a readymadeY By avoiding this, they not only definitively separate themselves from the 1980s legacy of appropriation, but also place themselves in opposition to the use of style as a paean to some sort of "time-warp cult" or worse, as a kind of "zombie burlesque"33 parody.

30 Although perhaps German painter

32 The notion of "neo-modernism" was

Tomma Abts is one, as she insists that her

inspired by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh's potent

of "mimic[king] the formal moves of some

abstractions appear sui generis on her canvases.

identification of a neo-avant-garde published

modernist art." Geers, "Neo-Modern," October

See Laura Hoptman, ed., Tomma Abts (New

in October ("The Primary Colors for the Second

139 (Winter 2012): 9.

York: Phaidon and New Museum, 2009).

Time: A Paradigm Repetition of the Neo-Avant-

of contemporary painters accuses them

33 Reynolds, Retromania, 299. Reynolds

Garde," October 37 [Summer 1986]: 41-52).

used these epithets to describe a show

Amy Sillman "Chromophilia," Mousse 29

In the spirit of Buchloh's takedown of second-

by eighties band the Cramps.

(Summer 2011): 166.

generation Dadaists, David Geers's critique

31 Kerstin Bratsch, quoted in Bratsch and



t is fair to ask, as a journalist did recently, "What attracts artists to painting at a time when digital technology offers seemingly limitless options with less arthistorical baggage?" 34 The answer might be exactly the "art-historical baggage" that painting provides. Painting is traditionally (and perhaps literally) the platform on which the history of visual art in Western Europe and subsequently in the U.S. was built, then destroyed, and now argued about. It is a discursive medium,;s one that, over the twentieth century in particular, has been the site where forms and genres emerge and withdraw from the field with an almost tidal regularity. Lately-that is, in this new millennium-the painted surface has been the arena in which painting's traditions as well as its strategies are reinterpreted, and painting's more metaphysical high-stakes questions on such subjects as originality, subjectivity, and spiritual transcendence are, as a result, being tested. Painting's accumulated art-historical baggage-or its sense of "belatedness"36-is only one of several objections that have caused some critics over the past twenty years to identify painting as a "problem."37 Other objections include its "investment in permanence and virtuosity";s and, concomitantly, its obdurate objecthood. This last, which leaves the medium vulnerable to mere connoisseurship39 and careening inevitably towards commodification, has given rise to a provocative argument by the art historian David Joselit, who offers a work-around for this situation. By recasting contemporary painting as "essentially a broadcast medium,"40 Joselit transforms an individual painting from an object to a transmitter of information. Considered this way, a painting "cannot be reified" because it isn't something static but rather part of a "network."41 The notion that a painting-or at least the information it carries-is perpetually in motion


34 Julia Halperin, "Paint, canvas, action!,"

The Art Newspaper, October 18, 2013, http://

36 See Raphael Rubenstein, "Provisional Painting," Art in America (May 2009): 129.,

37 See note 44.

canvas, action!/30766.

38 Rubenstein, "Provisional Painting," 129.

35 Thomas Lawson, "Last Exit: Painting,"

39 Critic Juliane Rebentisch asserted

relinquishing the defining of art exclusively to the market and its trends." Rebentisch, in Alexander Garcia DUttmann, Yilmaz Dziewior, Michael Krebber, and Juliane Rebentisch, "Conversation in Columns," in Yilnaz Dziewior,

Artforum (October 1981). Reprinted in Richard

recently that "it has ever been the concern of

ed., Formalismus. Mode me Kunst, Heute

Hertz, ed., Theories of Contemporary Art

art criticism and art theory to liberate the

(Formalism. Modern Art, Today) (Hamburg:

(Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985).

discourse of art from the relativism of mere

Kunstverein in Hamburg, 2004), 221.

Lawson writes: "Radical artists now are faced

subjective judgments of taste and to provide

with a choice-despair, or the last exit:

criteria of aesthetic judgment in order to make

painting. The discursive nature of painting is

it publicly negotiable." She continues, "It seems

persuasively useful, due to its characteristic of

to me particularly important to stick to this

being a never-ending web of representations."

task and not to seek refuge in private

(Hertz, 155.)

connoisseurship .. if we wish to avoid


40 David Jose lit, "Signal Processing,"

Artforum (Summer 2011): 356. 41 Joselit, "Painting Beside Itself," October 130 (Fall 2009): 125-34.

is invigorating and more than apt to describe practices like that ofKerstin Bratsch, who translates the painterly mark into a variety of materials, or Murillo, whose canvases may be displayed in many different ways, ranging from spread on the floor like drop cloths to folded and stacked like remainders in a fabric store. However, rechristening an object as an activity is, in the end, a rhetorical magic trick. It doesn't make the obsolescent thingness of painting (its awkward but crucial relationship to the world of digital information42 notwithstanding) disappear. Nor does it sway many painters, unless they are those who are in the business of, as critic Johanna Burton put it, "keeping the death of painting alive."43 Those under discussion here are a more hopeful bunch who might echo the sentiment of painter Amy Sillman, who called out from the audience at a recent symposium where "the problem of painting" was continually referenced, "What's the problem? Painters don't see any problem! "44 This is not to say that atemporal painters treat their medium uncritically. For a younger artist like Murillo, the act of painting seems to have the portentousness of casting in bronze, and it has him veering off the stretcher to make analogies between paintings and drop cloths, rags, dish towels, and all manner of humbler textiles that have a useful rather than aesthetic purpose. This apparent insolence that masks respect is something he shares with Bratsch, who violates the aura of her paintings by stacking them atop one another or pinning them unprotected against a wall, and also with Connors, who has been known to build three-dimensional structures with his paintings. Josh Smith's mammoth production of works painted in an array oflanguages and Joe Bradley's Schmagoo paintings, sometimes composed of a single gesture, are both exercises in arrogance towards the medium, but, as it is with trash-talking fighters, the bluster of these artists seems clearly to be a way to psych themselves into being able to dominate the medium that they have no doubt is the main artistic event. "Everyone is an anti-painter at the beginning," Charline von Heyl has said, and her work has a rich vocabulary of painterly references that calls to mind both

42 A useful analogy is "steampunk;' an

43 Johanna Burton, "Rites of Silence:

aesthetic created by science-fiction writers

Johanna Burton on the Art of Wade Guyton,"

William Gibson and Bruce Sterling in their 1990

Artforum (Summer 2008): 366.

novel The Difference Engine (New York:

44 "Painting Beyond Itself: The Medium

Bantam Spectra, 1991). Steam punk describes

in the Post-Medium Condition." Participants

a way of living that combines the obsolete

who cited "the problem of painting" included

with the futuristic-steam-powered computers

art historians Benjamin H. D. Buchloh and the

and the like.

critic Isabelle Graw.


the work of postwar abstractionists like Lucio Fontana45 and anti-painters like her near contemporary Michael Krebber, who once wrote that "art as material and tool is best suited to every kind of undertaking when it is hollow."46 But von Heyl's results are as different as can be from Krebber's arch painting in quotation marks. Simply put, von Heyl's paintings are not about painting as a strategy or a gesture; they are paintings, period. This truth holds for all the artists under discussion and renders irrelevant-at least for this group-any critically manufactured "problem" that the medium might present.


"The zombie ... stalk(s) a new cultural economy that is necessarily already no longer current; nor is it ever outdated, because it cancels cultural time measured in decades and centuries. "4 7

he undead are the perfect embodiments of the atemporal. They have already been and gone but are still here. The metaphor of the zombie 48-a resurrected body without a soul that feeds on other bodies-is useful: it evokes the voracious hunger for ideas and images from the past that, in some paintings today, are consumed, digested, and re-presented in guises that resemble their original forms, but are somehow changed. Although it is easy to see the zombie paradigm as pejorative, it also has a deep-seated appeal. In its variations, the idea of reanimating what was thought to be dead, or out oftime, or the possibility of reliving something from the past, speaks to our core fantasies, which are drawn to heel by the inevitabilities not only of our cultural timeline, but also of our mortality.


45 Von Heyl titled a recent painting

46 Michael Krebber in Duttmann, Dziewior,

phenomenon he calls "Zombie Formalism,"

Concetto Spaziale after Fontana's best-known

Krebber, and Rebentisch, "Conversation in

which he defines as "a straightforward,

monochrome paintings, whose surfaces are

Columns," 215.

reductive, essentialist method of making

articulated by a single slash in the canvas to

47 Lars Bang Larsen, "Zombies of

a painting ... " It is "zombie" because it brings

reveal the wall on which the painting is hung.

Immaterial Labor: The Modern Monster and

back to life the discarded aesthetics of

Notably, von Heyl's Concetto Spaziale is not

the Death of Death," f-f/ux Journal (April

Clement Greenberg, which he calls "a walking

a monochrome, nor does it include any sort

2010): 9-12.

corpse" of an idea. None of the artists that

of rupture to the canvas. It does, however, indicate multiple planes ofthe canvas surface

48 The comparison of an element of culture to zombies has been a common trope

Robinson mentions are in the present exhibition. Walter Robinson, "Flipping and the Rise

through the superimposition of abstract motifs,

over the past decade. Indeed, as this essay

of Zombie Formalism,", April 3,

which are curved in a manner that recalls the

was being written, the critic and painter Walter


curvature of many of Fontana's slashes.

Robinson published an article describing a



In his classic, Freudian-inflected study on artistic influence in poetry, Harold Bloom identifies six manners in which influence manifests itself. Apophrades, the Greek term for the "return of the dead," is, for Bloom, when influence manifests as if"the later poet himself had written the precursor's characteristic work."4 9 This description banishes the image of the zombie's rotting corpse and replaces it with reanimation-a spirit from the past willfully conjured into existence. In contemporary painting, reanimation exists on the level of form, on the level of ideas, or as a mixture of both. Reanimators of form create painterly languages that resemble in method and manner that of their precursors, but they may or may not have different meanings in mind. Bloom calls this creative misreading of an older generation by a younger one "misprision,"so which describes the crucial difference between a "dead style hanging" and one alive on a wall. A clear example of creative misprision in reanimation can be seen in the manner in which the language of Abstract Expressionism and the European Informel appear in the work Michaela Eichwald, whose paintings feature emotional explosions of paint that seem thrown on rather than applied to the canvas. Eichwald is channeling the power of the grand expressionistic gesture, but to different ends than those of her postwar predecessors. Philip Guston memorably identified the central issue of Abstract Expressionism as "whether it's possible to create in our society at all,"51 emphasizing the notion that the big form can tackle the biggest human questions. Eichwald's painterly gestures can be big, but she has redirected the hurricane power of the storm of drips and brushstrokes so that it blows inward. Her dramatic gestural gambits never reach across an entire painted surface but are often aggregated near the canvas's center, where they create a kind of vortex; in other cases, her swaths and blobs of paint float detached in an empty atmosphere. In some paintings, Eichwald attaches bits of newspaper, snippets from magazines, or photographs to her painted surfaces. The collage elements encourage the viewer to scrutinize the painting up close, detail by detail. The effect is that even at a large scale, Eichwald's paintings seem to be anecdotal, maps of a local cosmos rather than a universal one.

49 Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, 15-16.

50 Ibid., 6. 51 Philip Guston, quoted in Raphael Rubinstein, "To Rest Lightly on the Art," Art in America (February 2012): 7.


Michaela Eichwald Dienst am Alien (Ministering to the Alien), 2013 Acrylic, wax, lacquer, and tempera on pleather 56 o/,6' x 17' 4 'Y,e" (143.1 x 530 em)


Eichwald's compositions are emotional, expulsive, even violent, but they are also introspective and idiosyncratic in the extreme, which makes for a distinctive "like, but not like" relationship to postwar Abstract Expressionism. In her new series of easel-scale abstractions, American painter Julie Mehretu reanimates the language of the same generation of European and American painters, and although her results differ from Eichwald's, there is a similar transposition from grandiosity to intimacy that undoes received ideas of what Abstract Expressionism was, and can be. Over an almost twenty-year-long painting career, Mehretu has developed a distinct pictorial language that combines abstract directional vectors with schematic maps, building elevations, and handmade marks that are layered on often monumentally sized canvases. Mehretu's latest series of paintings are pure gestural abstractions using short, calligraphic brushstrokes in black paint on a gray ground. Although they retain the almost tectonic sense of stir and movement of her earlier works, they have swapped their sense of place for a sense of time, the duration taken to fill the canvas with marks. The more profound switch perhaps, though, is from an external mapping to an internal one. Mehretu has spoken of these works in relationship to automatic writing, and indeed they seem to channel mid-century calligraphic abstractions by artists like Michaux and Twombly, among others. But though she may follow the technique of these older artists, she achieves a result as distinct from theirs as one person's signature is from another. California artist Mary Weatherford is a reanimator of ideas rather than formal gestures, and her paintings belong in the particularly American history of the Western landscape. Weatherford has been making abstract landscapes for the better part of twenty years in a number of mediums, but she is best known for painting with Flashe, a kind of acrylic paint that is highly pigmented but also transparent. In a way that mimics gouache, Weatherford applies the Flashe in veil-like, watery pools across the canvas, layering colors to create depth but also a chromatic aura that gives her work atmosphere. About two years ago, Weatherford started to fasten brightly colored neon rods onto the surface of her paintings. They redouble the effect of the Flashe; with light rather than liquid, they create a glowing, colored atmosphere that is more dusk than dawn, more urban than rural. Weatherford has titled these paintings after the sites that inspired them: Bakersfield, California; Coney Island; and New York's Chinatown. These works exhibit an understanding of the ability of color to delineate the sort of infinite space found in Mark Rothko's


"tectonic abstraction," a mode in which "broad fields of color meet at charged zones of heightened visual interest."52 But Weatherford's abstract evocations ofhonkytonk nights also channel the spirit of another mid -century painter of the Western landscape, Clyfford Still. Still's vast, dry surfaces the color of desert sand, with shapes like jagged cliffs, are as abstract as Rothko's, but this did not stop Clement Greenberg from deeming them "Buckeye Paintings,"53 that is, cowboy painting for the atomic age. Still's ability to evoke the kitsch and grandeur of the Western landscape-in a way that didn't belie the influence of paint-by-number reproductions as well as the movies-is channeled through Weatherford's evocations of electric sunsets and carnival rides in the summer glare. Weatherford's neon paintings reanimate an idea that summons the specters ofRothko and Still, but her paintings fundamentally depart from these artists' non-objectivity. Rerouting the metaphysics of Color Field painting back to its actual source in nature, Weatherford's paintings are rooted in observable phenomena-early evenings in the desert, or neon-flecked nights in New York or Bakersfield. Weatherford's process is not dissimilar to that of the German-born artist Charline von Heyl, a painter who has described her recent works as inspired in part by the "tropes of feeling" expressed by painters who have come before her. Von Heyl has stated that the dead can live again through form. "Everything," she said recently, "exists as an image."54 She brings this to bear in complex, multi-plane compositions in which abstract, representational, and quasi-representational onomatopoetic forms such as zigzags relate and disaggregate. Her references, she claims, are deliberately open; 55 nevertheless she conjures the existential Weltschmerz ofSartrean Europe with bold, Informel calligraphies surrounded by tenebrous, Wolsian lines layered atop biomorphic shapes redolent of the age of nuclear anxiety. Other works present a lexicon of sixties abstract vocabularies in their juxtaposition of keen-edged patterns that sit flatly on the canvas atop lavish painterly gestures. These composition-defining marks are sometimes accentuated by hard-edged geometries drawn in perspective that seem to float in a thin plane between the foreground and background. In other cases, this gathering of images of abstract forms (as opposed to mere abstractions) are joined by recurring representational 52 Joselit, "Signal Processing," 356. Joselit is precising Hal Foster in this quotation.

53 Clement Greenberg, "'American-Type' Painting [1955)." Reprinted in Greenberg, Art

and Culture (Boston: Beacon, 1961), 208-29.


54 Charline von Heyl, in conversation with the author, Brooklyn, New York, September 10,

2013. 55 Ibid.



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as these earlier painters. Like a mathematician solving a known problem in a new and elegant manner, Molzan posits painterly suppositions that embellish and ultimately reinvigorate the fundamental question, "What is a painting?" What if the painting surface was transparent; or open, like a net; or picked apart into individual threads; or simply missing altogether so that the motif had to migrate to the stretcher bars? What if those bars described only three sides of the painting? What if the paint was absorbed into the support or atomized and applied drop by drop onto individual threads of canvas? Molzan's rehearsals of the flexibility of the language of painting are rhetorical, but in a way that recalls a new performance of a beloved play; the story is well-known, but we are still charmed by the freshness of the interpretation. Kerstin Bratsch is a reenactor, but of a very different kind. She has admitted that her paintings are in dialogue with modern art history, and they have been described as "art-historical narratives on abstract painting-German postwar abstract painting in particular." 71 Her distinctive vocabulary of abstract forms-fat, dimensionalized ribbons of color and reticulated fans of pigment, and especially her radiant orbs with dark, planet-like centers-conjure the operatic existential themes that Guston identified as central to Abstract Expressionism. Bratsch herself has described her works as "intending to brutally express anxiety, tenderness, alienation, reflection, private aggression, and loss. Or, more straightforwardly: death." 72 But unlike Johnson, Connors, and Molzan, Bratsch is conflicted about the relationship of her work to art history. If a signature Bratsch painting can summon the ghosts of a veritable goulash of formal progenitors including Sigmar Polke, Martin Kippenberger, Adolph Gottlieb, Hilma afKlint, Frantisek Kupka, Sonia Delaunay, and many others,73 the imaginative and varied ways in which she prefers to exhibit her paintings-none of which include framing them on a wall-can be seen as her way of taking a required distance from her historic references. "When painting, there is an awareness of how things have been used and maybe an attempt to find a new usage of the tools in 'painting,"' she admitted in an interview with Amy Sillman/4 A Bratsch oil painting may be attached to the wall with two magnets 71

Bosko Blagojevic, "Casual Encounters:

73 Massimiliano Giani, "Notes on

Matt Connors's laundry list of influences on

Painting in the Wrong Light," in Kerst in Bratsch,

Abstraction," Parkett 88 (2011): 25. Giani lists

his own work, mentioned earlier in this essay,

Maier, den Pinsel prufend, The 2nd Quasi

an entire paragraph of influences in his

is another example.

Sunrise to Sunset (Los Angeles: Paper Chase

essay. This manner of description, which I call

Press, 2013), n.p.

a "whatever and everything" strategy, is much

72 Bratsch, quoted in Bratsch and Sillman,

in evidence in the critical literature surrounding most of the artists in the exhibition.

"Chromophilia," 166.


74 Bratsch, quoted in Bratsch and Sillman, "Chromophilia," 166.

placed at the top of the sheet of paper so that the painting curls at the bottom like a street notice, hung from a ceiling like a banner, or surrounded on all four sides by slats of wood. This last treatment effectively makes the paintings freestanding sculptures, and they can be exhibited that way, standing up on their thick frames in space or leaning against a wall. Paintings have also been incorporated into larger projects that relegate them to book illustrations, posters, props, or backdrops for performances. Bratsch's friend, the critic Bosko Blagojevic, has described her consistent and deliberately creative display as "abus[ing] her foundational discipline." She does this, Blagojevic argues, to make her practice of this very traditional medium relevant to her contemporary situation/5 But Bratsch's presentation of her paintings is not the only thing that holds her work in suspension between the history of German art that it conjures and the present moment. Bratsch's signature motifthe plump, segmented tube that snakes through most of her work-unmistakably resembles the broad line created by a stylus or a fingertip on a computer plotter. Supple as the brushstroke that it masquerades as, the plotter line conjures associations with computer-generated drawing and digital printing. Although she claims that many of her paintings have been inspired by her sometime collaborator Adele Roder's digital designs, Bratsch is emphatic that the effects in her paintings are arrived at by hand. This is related to the strategies of Laura Owens and Michael Williams, both of whom use digital means to festoon their paintings with expressive painterly gestures, but it is their mirror image. Bratsch's careful hand-painted reproduction of a gestural brushstroke as interpreted by a computerized drafting program succeeds in magnifying the importance of that stroke into a significant subject. She does this not only by rendering her stroke in paint, but also by reproducing it in glass, where it can be seen as an actual object free-floating in space. Bratsch is focused on changing the terms in which German painting-and her German painting in particular-is received. She is equally determined to rethink how the figure of the German painter-from Caspar David Friedrich through Gerhard Richter, Polke, Kippenberger, and Albert Oehlen has been romanticized, excused, and ultimately valorized. Referring to herself in quotation marks as "the painter Bratsch" to make clear that she is "definitely" making "reference to the

75 Blagojevic, "Casual Encounters: Painting in the Wrong Light;' n.p.


history of German painting," 76 Bratsch is a reenactor from within precincts wherein she already dwells. Sigi's Erben (2012) is a screen-like contraption that consists of a metal armature, plates of handmade glass that have been painted on, and pieces of cut agate scavenged from Sigmar Polke's stained-glass window project (2006-09) in Zurich's Grossmiinster Cathedral. The work was created in collaboration with Urs Rickenbach, the master glass artist who worked with Polke on the cathedral's windows. Rickenbach gave Bratsch access to cross sections of agate left over from Polke's project. Because tubular spiral patterns in the stones bear a curious resemblance to Bratsch's signature brushstroke, she juxtaposed them in Sigi's Erben with her own cast-glass paintings. The result-which cheekily implies that however influenced Bratsch is by Polke, Polke could also have borrowed from her-is a work that is both a paean to an Old Master and a challenge. Using the inert discards of Polke's last, great masterpiece, Bratsch breathes new life into them, re-presenting them as her own albeit haunted by the specter of the older artist.


oth reanimation and reenactment have been called nostalgic reflexes,77 but those painters whose work can be seen in relation to these terms do not reconstruct the past to quell a longing for it. In fact, it is a trait of atemporal painters to not be nostalgic at all. What first might appear as a mining of the past in order to go back in time is actually a will to experience historical form as if for the first time-that is, without the burden of chronology. This is accomplished through knowledge-the kind made newly and almost universally available through digital means. In the largest sense, because of the ubiquity of access to it, it is difficult to envision history as a longed-for absence. It is so present that it is a given. In terms of painting, because we so thoroughly know what styles like Abstract Expressionism or strategies like the monochrome mean, we can treat them as what the Minimalists called a "gestalt" object: a form so instantaneously familiar that it needs no description. Without


76 Bratsch, quoted in Bratsch and Sillman, "Chromophilia," 166. 77 See Reynolds, Retromania.


the weight of our nostalgia for their original incarnations, contemporary paintings are, in the words of Richard Aldrich, "free to be what they want,"7 8 or free to be what the artists who made them want them to be, which are affirmations of how things can persist in culture. This is not to say that in some a temporal paintings there isn't an appreciation of the past at work. Josh Smith has referred to Molzan and Aldrich as "cutters" because they are among the many artists at work now who do intentional damage to the painting surface to reveal the mystery behind the physical structure of a painting, and also perhaps to signal that the work has been mauled, chewed over, taken apart, and put back together/9 Many of Joe Bradley's most recent paintings have been created by stitching pieces of used or soiled canvas together and then painting them, with the seams serving simultaneously as a kind of compositional structure and an indication of age and use. Perhaps inspired by Bradley, Murillo has adopted a similar practice. These intentional distresses are a way to indicate a recovery of something used and traumatized, 80 but they also signify a connoisseurship of ruin, a celebration of the possibility of simultaneously being finished and in process. In other words, both dead and alive.

78 Richard Aldrich, in conversation with the author, New York, February 18, 2014. 79 Josh Smith, in conversation with the author, New York, March 7, 2014. 80 Judith Clark, "Research: A Repertoire of

"The worn out, the scrapped, the torn apart, burned or stained, are the material for the new distress: distress here meaning both the sign of trauma and evidence of wear and tear. In repeating these bits and pieces a disturbing

Repetitions," in Clark, Spectres: When Fashion

past is being referred to; something ruined

Turns Back (London and Antwerp: Victoria and

is being recovered," 40-41.

Albert Museum and ModeMuseum, 2004).



here can be no argument that this is the era of the remix, the mash-up, and the sample. The rise of a "plus/and" rather than an "either/or" 81 culture of instantaneous creativity82 might have begun in the world of popular music, but since the turn of the millennium, it has spread to the visual arts and, there, bred a generation of self-identified cultural pirates and assemblers who, like contemporary Dr. Frankensteins, ransack the timeless tombs of data and cobble together works of art from parts found there. The juxtaposition of aggressively various styles and motifs can happen on an individual canvas or across an oeuvre, and in all cases the artists who do this make us aware of the seams between components. It is, after all, the sutures that signal that these works are not re-creations or revivals but instead a new species that insistently and dangerously lives among us, confounding any notions that we might have of a culture experienced in an orderly sequence. In 2004, in a kind of single-artist protest against the hegemony of stylistic periodization, Richard Aldrich vowed that he would paint every one of his paintings in a different style and that he would never repeat a style. The project did not last long, because he quickly realized that this recalling of all styles retained the teleological structure of art history, which was exactly what he hoped to combat. Rethinking the problem, Aldrich embraced and, instead of or, jettisoning sequence for juxtaposition. He also decided to narrow his field of operation from several paintings created over time to the arena of a single canvas. Atomizing historical and contemporary cultural references-a snippet of accent color from Pierre Bonnard, a pattern from Mary Cassatt, or a calligraphic gesture from Franz Kline-Aldrich developed a pictorial equivalent to sound sampling with results that can resist stylistic descriptors as well as chronological ones. Paintings like Angie Adams/Franz Kline (2010-11), which features a Kline-ian knot of dark paint juxtaposed with a patch of color identified with a (misheard) name mentioned in a rap song, disrupt the sequence that is the literal passage of time by relating two wildly achronological bits of information simultaneously but individually. "Sometimes it works like a Franz Kline and sometimes it looks like a Kanye West song," Aldrich has said of this painting. 83



83 Aldrich, in conversation with the author,

Reynolds, Retromania, 126.

82 Buskirk, Jones, and Jones, "The Year in 'Re-."'


New York, February 18, 2014.





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Richard Aldrich Angie Adams/Franz Kline, 2010-11 Oil, wax, and vine charcoal on cut linen 7' x 58" (213.4 x 147.3 em)


The simultaneity of information-"that things can and do exist in different places" 84-is a crucial concept in Aldrich's oeuvre, which includes paintings that feature abstract motifs, figurative vignettes, collage elements, and, in a few cases, sound. Known elements of a style as represented by a painterly mark are merely small details in a larger "fluid continuum" 85 of meaning that is based not only on juxtapositions of motifs, but also on context, reception, even adjacencies of one painting to another. The non-hierarchical, sometimes illogical or opportunistic way that the artist incorporates images and objects in his work, Aldrich claims, mimics the manner in which the contemporary brain processes history: as a product of the period and context in which it is apprehended. Ultimately, Aldrich's paintings offer models for how elements thought to be dead or vestigial continue to exist in culture. Not through new forms, but through new combinations. "Why is everything so disparate?" Laura Owens asked rhetorically, before answering her own question by explaining that the possibility of using many styles, techniques, and motifs simultaneously "gives you more chances to level these hierarchies and talk about heterogeneity, because here's a reference to Matisse and then a children's mural, and you get to slam those two things together." 86 In Owens's new work, the mighty canvases are standard size, created in groups, and hung in a line, directing us to read across the row of huge paintings as well as to look at each one individually. Doing this allows the sometimes jarring juxtapositions of handdrawn lines and manufactured marks, photo-silkscreen and painting, formal devices and illustrations, abstract brushstrokes and texts, to coalesce. That's right: coalesce, because Owens's groupings prove unity, not disparity-the unity of purpose and equal value of marks that is the privilege of the painted surface. For Owens, this is what painting brings to artistic discourse-not homogenization but simultaneity of disparate viewpoints. This goal of convening a community of motifs and languages on the plane of the canvas has been with Owens since her earliest works of almost two decades ago-huge canvases with a lexicon of painterly marks, from expressionistic to highly illustrational. Those early paintings, like her recent, astonishingly lively graphic behemoths, reinforce the medium's welcoming heterogeneity as well as its surprising, anything-is-possible flexibility.

84 Ibid.

86 Laura Owens, quoted in Stephen Berens

85 Aldrich, "Questionnaire: Richard Aldrich Is Serious!," (January 8, 2009), /quest'lonnaire-richard-aldrich-is-serious.


and Jan Tumlir, "Still Lifing: Conversation with Laura Owens," X-Tra (Winter 2014): 92.

Owens's affinities with Josh Smith's project are clear, and both artists have noticed and remarked upon it. Painting "is a container that people are shifting things into," Owens said recently, 87 a sentiment echoed by Smith's enormous oeuvre of paintings. His output includes paintings-"less than two thousand" over the past decade(!), he reports 88-that run the gamut from expressionist abstractions to landscapes, monochromes, and more conceptual works that feature his name. Often painted on canvases of the same size to emphasize their equivalence with one another, they are considered by the artist "as completely malleable" and "part of a running conversation between realism and abstraction" 89 that is non-hierarchical and non-sequential. "You look at a picture and you recognize what's in it, and then more than so percent of the joy is over-you're pretty much going downhill from there," he has commented mordantly about the variety in his oeuvre.9o Smith's paintings, as a critic has observed, display "a consistency of approach" (rather than "a consistency of appearance")9 1 that rejects the notion of development. They present to us not one thing after another, but instead a landscape of possibilities seen all at once and on the same plane. Simultaneity can be expressed horizontally, as in the work of Aldrich, Owens, and Smith, but there is also the possibility of creating an archeology of forms laid atop one another, a method used by Connors in his monochromes; by Sillman, who drapes figuration with lyrical abstraction that is then corralled by a cockeyed grid; and by Bratsch, who has a series of works that layer images from her own older works, which she calls "ghost paintings." It is Michael Williams, though, who has made the idea of simultaneous apprehension of information a central tenet of his oeuvre to date. Williams gathers his images from many different areas in the digital universe, and the surfaces of his canvases seem to mimic that universe's depth. Utilizing digital printing processes in order to transfer a motif directly onto the canvas, along with airbrush and (increasingly limited) brush painting, Williams creates the illusion of a series of transparent planes in which his images-figures, glyphs, symbols-seem to be suspended. Unlike Aldrich's work, in which styles, images, and motifs meet in a shared space, Williams's illusion of dimensionality subtly 87 Owens, in conversation with the author, Los Angeles, December 15, 2013. 88 Smith, in conversation with the author, New York, March 7, 2014.

90 Ibid., 161. 91 Mark Godfrey, "Abstraction and Unknowability" (lecture in the symposium PTG: Abstraction since 1980, The Solomon R.

89 Josh Smith, "1000 Words: Josh Smith Talks About Currents, 2008-," Artforum (February 2009): 162.


Guggenheim Museum, New York, January 17, 2014).

Laura Owens Untitled, 2013 Oil, acrylic, and Flashe paint on canvas 11' 5 W' x 10' (349.3 x 304.8 em)


Michael Williams Movie, 2012 Airbrush and oil on canvas

7' 7" x 71" (231.1 x 180.3 em)



changes the terms of the relationship between elements that appear in much greater profusion than in Aldrich's, Smith's, or even Owens's compositions. Williams gathers communities of forms that may or may not relate to each other but that together create their own narrative and their own time, which is entirely separate from lived or experienced time. Off the grid and off the clock, the only hints he offers of the moment in which we live are methodological-the computer printing and the airbrush. These techniques, used in combination, are what give Williams's paintings their peculiar atmospheric quality: a soft, colored ether that fills the canvas and erases any notion of up or down, ground or horizon. If Aldrich's paintings offer models of how discrete elements of experience are processed in relationship to one another in today's eternal present, Williams's paintings, with their countless bits of information floating in a kind of dreamspace of infinite depth, might offer a way to understand what that present might actually look like.


ne of the ways to create a timeless atmosphere is to remove all indications of the movement of time. Clocks must be covered, and mirrors and windows too, because anything living changes over time. For contemporary painters, the equivalent of stopping the clocks, pulling the drapes, and turning the mirror to the wall might be the gathering of information not from the world, but only from other information. When artists consume styles, motifs, and ideas from the broader landscape of the history of painting, as atemporal painters do, it is a kind of cannibalism, a ritual done to imbibe power-to control but also to honor the victim/subject. At its most insular, one can gather information from one's own information, a kind of artistic self-cannibalism that creates a machine of perpetual reference in which a motif is a print of a motif, which is then used as a piece of another motif, which is then photographed and used again to create another motif, and so on, as in some works by Connors, Smith, Murillo, and Bratsch. Aldrich has often re-created his own abstract motifs at different scales, but his most effective gesture of stop-action has been to represent his older works embedded in his new ones, whether through collage or, in one significant series, by means of a 35mm slide of an old work mounted as the single motif on an otherwise blank canvas.



Oscar Murillo 3+ (lessons in aesthetics and productivity), 2014 Oil, oil stick, and graphite on linen and canvas

7' 8 W' x64 15/ie" (235 x 165 em)



Cannibalism creates an intentionally closed system, an ouroboros that refutes notions of first and last, beginning and end, material and product. Admitting that the art-making process is "an attempt to erase time," Murillo has described his canvases as "relics of sorts, but unlike archeological discoveries, they don't particularly make reference to anything outside ofthemselves."9 2 Indeed, one series of Murillo's paintings, appropriately titled Work, is made from his previous paintings-works made from works. He extends the work metaphor further, stating, self-evidently, that all his paintings are the result of work-whether it be painting, sewing, folding, dyeing, or drawing. "I jump from one process to another, barely considering formal ideas of painting," he explains. "It is a one-frequency, one-strata playing field. I mean, there aren't any hierarchies."93 There are echoes of Josh Smith's notions of the radical equalization of styles here, but instead of juxtaposing strategies of painting, Murillo chooses strategies of mark-making not necessarily born within the precincts of fine art. A smear or a boot print receives the same emphasis as a painterly gesture.


n the atemporal universe, archaism and futurity are obsolete positions and the archetype is proof of this, as it can play either the role of the first form or the most recent. A pictograph is a cave drawing and an emoticon. Incorporating archetypal forms or imagery is an activity that is not quite parallel to reanimation, reenactment, or sampling, but it has a similar effect of thwarting periodization. Joe Bradley, Nicole Eisenman, and Mark Grotjahn are three very different painters, but some of their work is atemporal in a similar way: it is based on archetypal, symbolic forms that are by definition undatable. Bradley has made a number of different kinds of paintings, from monochromatic panels arranged in humanoid configurations, to a series of canvases stenciled with an Egyptian hieroglyph, to painterly abstractions that feature areas of thickly applied color that on occasion resolve into robots or


92 Murillo, quoted in Catherine Wood, "Dirty Painting," Mousse (October-November 2012): 107. 93 Murillo, quoted in Beatrix Ruf, "Working to Work," interview with Oscar Murillo, Flash

Art (October 2013): 69.


monsters. His Schmagoo paintings, begun in 2008, are raw canvases that each feature a single rudimentary form boldly drawn with black grease pencil, such as a cruciform, a stick figure, and a slightly curved horizontal line placed at the bottom of a rectangular canvas like a smile. These forms are glyphs that balance between the ancient definition of the term and the contemporary digital one. When they were first exhibited, the Schmagoo paintings ignited a critical argument about the seriousness of the artist's enterprise. Dubbed "durr" painting after cartoon character Homer Simpson's wordless expression of incomprehension, they were held up as examples of painterly simplicity taken to the far shores of artistic parody.94 But, in fact, the Schmagoo paintings are the opposite of dumb. Universally readable, they are also profound, featuring symbols of spirituality (the cross, the fish, the eye), power (the shield), emotion (the smile), and scientific knowledge (numbers). Brutally primitivist but also brutally contemporary, they are a kind of first and last word of painterly communication. If there is an opposite to "durr" painting, Nicole Eisenman might be making it. Over the past twenty years, she has exercised her superior draftsmanship and knowledge of the history of art from the Renaissance to mid-century America to create highly detailed, graphically sophisticated contemporary history paintings and genre scenes that call to mind such wildly disparate artists as Michelangelo, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Thomas Hart Benton, while tackling subjects like same-sex love and poverty in urban America. She has recently described her oeuvre as a "play back and forth through moments in time,"9 5 and the vertiginous juxtaposition of historical and contemporary signifiers has become her signature. Eisenman's series ofmonoprints and paintings of masklike heads began several years ago, and individual works now number in the hundreds. At first glance, they seem very different from her contemporary history paintings. When asked how she moved from multifigure realism to these spare, monolithic renderings, she replied, "When you can't think of what to draw, draw a head."9 6 This implies that Eisenman's move to a configuration of forms as fundamental as Bradley's glyphs was a return to a primary impulse; this may be true in a formal

94 Chris Sharp, "Joe Bradley,"


(November 2, 2008),




95 Nicole Eisenman, quoted in Sarah Bryan Miller, "Artist Nicole Eisenman Isn't Afraid to

-8682-4705af3dcad6.html. 96 Eisenman, quoted in Faye Hirsch,

Make Viewers Uncomfortable," StLouis Post-

"Nicole Eisenman's Year of Painting Prolifically,"

Dispatch, February 8, 2014, http://www.stltoday

Art in Print 2, no. 5 (January-February, 2013): 6.



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