Sunday, December 12, 2010

Painting 2010: It's Alive

Anyone who hopes or fears that painting is dead would do well to visit "Between Picture and Viewer:  The Image in Contemporary Painting" at the School of Visual Arts Gallery.

Yes, the title is murky -- forget it.  Yes, the catalogue is turgid -- don't read it.  Yes, the paintings are well worth seeing -- just go and look.

It's a strong show, with works by some artists affiliated with New York's top galleries -- among others, Lisa Yuskavage from David Zwirner, Josephine Halvorson from Sikkema Jenkins, Inka Essenhigh from 303.  One of the treats of the show is seeing these painters under the same roof.  Other artists are less well known, perhaps, but highly accomplished.  This is good stuff, and includes both figurative and abstract art.

Halvorson is the real standout.  Her work here (see the two works above) is lush, though it depicts the most simple and sometimes time-worn objects -- photo albums, wood boards, a cake pan.  Her palette, mostly browns and grays, is quite rich.  This is painting at its intimate best, tactile and personal.  If anyone could resurrect still-life as a contemporary genre, it would be her.

Perhaps because the show was put together by an art historian, Isabel Taube, and a philosopher, Tom Huhn, the selections seem to draw on art history in the best sense, not as a clever quote but as traditions absorbed to strengthen the present.  Alexi Worth's "Smoker and Mirror" (left), for example, seems to draw on Magritte, Essenhigh's whacky fantasies (below) on art nouveau, Halvorson on Chardin and Johns.  Most seem to jump past Pop and consumerism to seek out a seriousness of purpose.

Of the 19 artists, who are represented by 50-some paintings, the majority are women.  The show makes no note of this.  Hallelujah, on both counts.

"Between Picture and Viewer: The Image in Contemporary Painting," School of Visual Arts Gallery, 601 West 26th St., 15th Floor.  Through December 22.

Images, from top:  Josephine Halvorson, "Cake Pan," "Two Primed Boards," courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York; Alexi Worth, "Smoker and Mirror," courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York; Inka Essenhigh, "Green Goddess I," courtesy 303 Gallery, New York; Joe Fyfe, "Dargah," courtesy James Graham & Sons, New York.