jeudi 27 novembre 2008
Joe Bradley (Canada Gallery, New York)
Drawn with grease pencil on white canvas, the boldness of the "one shot" method is undermined by the absurdity of the subject matter: scrawls and doodles that move in and out of figuration. The paintings are direct in there handling and their conceptual derivation. They are a waste of time to try to understand and a pleasure to pursue. For the past two and half years, Mr. Bradley has reconstituted monochromatic painting into a kind of composite building block. By combining stacks of brightly colored panels Mr. Bradley made paintings that were similantiously abstract and figurative, that both quote high Modernist painting and banana splits. In the Schmagoo Paintings, Mr. Bradley extends this project by using doodles as both Modernist talisman and pop cultural touchstone. These paintings draw on the paradox between the modernist impulse towards a raw source of art in the "primitive" and the seamless presentation of a resolved art object. The Schmagoo Paintings are comparable to both Jean Dubuffet's use of the art of the insane as a road map to authenticity and Robert Crumbs sketch books full of aggressively comic and self aware thought bombs. Mr. Bradley uses own version of "children's art" as source material, months of collected envelopes and receipts full of his Picasso quotes and automatic writing. The Schmagoo Paintings are a compression of Mr. Bradley's endless and playful self-examination and a celebration of his immersion in popular culture. These works are full of playful tweaks to our collective art piety, iconoclastic and dark like the late figuration of Philip Guston. The image could be a light bulb or a stick man but the result is a strange pshcological presence. Who would think a badly drawn tennis racket could hold a spiritual presence?
"I came across the word "Schmagoo" in a book about New York City drug culture in the 1960's, it was (is?) used as a slang for Heroin. This struck me as kind of funny, that a narcotic as deep and dark as Smack could end up with such a goofy nic name. Sounds like a Jewish super hero or something. The word stuck with me, and I began to think of "Schmagoo" as short hand for some sort of Cosmic Substance... Primordial Muck. The stuff that gave birth to everything. Base matter. The Bardo. In approaching this body of work, I have been thinking of Painting as a metaphor for the original creative act. The Word made Flesh. The transmutation of Schmagoo into Alchemical Gold." Joe Bradley
Joe Bradley’s quite large paintings at Canada have modesty to recommend them. All you see when you enter Mr. Bradley’s show is a scuffed-up blank canvas. And the six paintings in the adjoining room offer just one rudimentary image each: a cross, for instance, a Superman logo, the number 23. But because the artist doesn’t call on painterly competence, the work stands out in a gallery scene that has, overall, the ready-for-prime-time surface sheen of an M.F.A. show.
In his second solo show at this gallery, Joe Bradley deploys the minimum formal parameters—faux-naive renderings in grease pencil on unprimed canvases—for a painting to merit study. Titled “Schmagoo Paintings,” the works collected dirt during their creation and installation, while creases in the slackened canvases evince where Bradley has folded them. The only work in the front room is a blank canvas with slight dirt markings: It succinctly combines themes of process and formal purity, yet it is hardly a work at all. In the second gallery, a sketch of an unfinished cross suggests a contemplative mode of viewership, permitting the other nearly empty canvases in the room to resemble devotional panels. Bradley doodles symbols that compare painting to a site of reverence by referencing popular idols: The Superman logo is invoked as guarantor of collective security and metaphor for transformation; the number 23 evokes Michael Jordan’s uniform and the 23 Enigma. In one work, Bradley depicts an ichthys in a rudimentary mouth. Titled Abelmuth, 2008, the work was inspired by an illustration in Philip K. Dick’s journal, but it is rendered solely from Bradley’s memory and his personal associations. In Neil, 2008, Bradley uses a single line to demarcate the bottom third of the canvas, recalling Rothko’s roughly radiant color panels but also a kitschy, knowing smile.
This will be a very un-politically correct piece of art criticism. The faint of heart are encouraged to stop reading now. That said, I was recently impressed to hear a New York artist criticize, with distinctly un-PC disdain, a fellow artist for producing work that was ‘not retarded enough’. ‘Retardation’ being the acme of advanced art and any un-self-conscious betrayals of earnest intelligence an act of philistinism, it is as if, over the course of the past five years, a kind of compulsory Dada has integrated itself into the fabric of a good deal of New York art-making. The higher the ‘durr’-factor, the better, apparently, the art. And with this exhibition at CANADA, entitled ‘Schmagoo Paintings’, Joe Bradley has thrown down the ‘durr’ gauntlet. Because it doesn’t get much more retarded than this. Departing from the slightly less ‘durr’ primary-colour minimalist figures he showed at the Whitney Biennial this year, Bradley has produced an exhibition of seven mid-size ‘paintings’ on unprimed canvases (all works 2008). Six of the seven works bluntly feature stick figures, grease-pencil drawings which can be read as: a human figure, a fish in an open mouth, a cross, a Superman symbol, the number 23, and a line towards the bottom of a canvas (a deadpan mouth?) - while the seventh, titled Untitled (Schmutz Painting), bears nothing but the dirt from the floor upon which it was stretched. There is, incidentally, a lot of schmutz, for the same reason, on the other works as well. One thing that can said about Bradley’s work is that it responds to the art-fair attention-span of our time. It can (and should) be consumed in no less than the time it takes to walk in, chortle, and walk out of the gallery. When Martin Barré (a very generous reference) did just as little with white canvases and black spray paint in the early 1960s, it was radical and even beautiful. But here and now with Bradley it is just plain dumb, though that is the point. Whether I, or anyone, likes it or dislikes it is actually beside the point. Which is also very much the point. This kind of work wields the uncanny ability to render all who enter its orbit complicit. It’s a kind of 2008 Lower East Side counterpart to Jeff Koons - though rendered much more poorly. Squarely operating within a paradigm of post-sincerity - it is neither sincere or insincere, having transcended such issues - its mere existence acts as a cerebral black hole, engendering critical paralysis. Any possible reaction you may have to it has been foreseen and theoretically integrated into the work, such that reacting is vain. Whether you like it or not, you’re a fool. And if you profess indifference to it you’re likewise a fool, because such painterly antics require a stand that no one can make. It’s like a work of high modernist fiction - Borges, or Cortazar perhaps - in which you realize that you are part of the plot, but by the time you do - standing in front of the painting or reading this review - it’s too late.