Monday, February 19, 2007

Atkins' Art kits

The Triple Diesel posse checked out Wayne Atkins' paintings at Taxter & Spengemann. This is Atkins' second show at the gallery; we missed the first one; anyway, seems exhibiting has not distracted him from his MFA studies at CalArts. Anyway, we hear Yale was your grandpa's MFA program and Columbia your parents, but CalArts is the new "it" school because California is the new New York.

For pictures, you have to go to the gallery's web site.

Wayne Atkins' send-ups of art history are as hilarious as they are clever. Each painting depicts existing, famous works of art, and depicts them in galleries loosely governed by perspective, proscenium format. So each painting is a miniature gallery.

Also, Atkins' vocabulary is that of art history. His paintings, if essays, would be filled with footnotes, asterisks, and ibids.

Lots of people make art about art. Amy Wilson recently showed watercolors at Bellwether gallery, for example, combining famous art objects, viewers, and handwritten script signifying and recounting internal thoughts of the people viewing the art, surrogates for real-life viewers or maybe allegorical devices contrasting with the art objects.

But Atkins recontextualizes the art he selects by surrounding it with idiosyncratic and surprising objects. For example, in "Goat," Rauschenberg's famous "Monogram" is extracted from its vitrine and shoved against a wall, making it look like leftovers from last night's Satanic sacrifice, propelled by the graffito pentagram that corrupts Sol LeWitt's otherwise rational-and-otherwise-innocuous concentric star wall drawing. Other paintings feature textbook-quality art pieces sharing rooms with buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, sticks, gas cans, severed arms, bits, scraps, and pieces.

So Duchamp's "Fountain" loosened and expanded the conditions of an art object, and Atkins infuses into those conditions a slacker, smartass, possibly metalhead sensibility. Only he illustrates everything, via representational painting, rather than demonstrating, performing or presenting the thing itself. References to popular culture compound this dissipation of art-category boundaries, such as the beloved character Johnny 5 from the great film "Short Circuit." In Atkins painting by the same title, J5 pokes fun at the painterly stroke by painting a line along the walls while simultaneously zapping his surroundings with a green laser beam, the same color as the brushstroke. Therefore, brushstroke = laser beam. Johnny 5 zaps everything, including the floorboards, which are no doubt a reference to the T&S floor, as well as to Magritte's persistent, recurring use of floorboard planks, which was emphasized in the current LACMA show on Magritte, only a short drive from CalArts. One of Mike Kelley's wood plank/floor board paintings, drove the point home. But actually, Atkins was doing wood floors before that show, so we can't suggest that he bit the idea from the LACMA show. Just an interesting connection. Especially because Atkins paints about paintings, while Magritte painted despite painting (i.e. he was a proto-conceptualist using painting, more like On Kawara or Baldessari, less like a painters' painter like Bacon or Dana Schutz).

But isn't this just a juvenile, facile satirization of art? Illustrate or replicate great art to make fun of it? Jerry Saltz once warned us in a lecture, "Don't go after the canon." We always wonder what he meant. Because it's futile? Canonized artists can't be dethroned because of their indelible impressions on history? Or is it more like a market thing?

We started to frown at these paintings, just as quickly as we had laughed, and felt frustrated that Wayne Atkins is a mere clown, poking fun at art by reducing it to oddity and rubbish. But then we looked at his painting, "Life During Wartime," which is upstairs at Taxter and which features an Albers painting. (Bear with us: this is tricky and we're working from memory, so we might be slightly off, but you'll get the point.) One of Albers' revelations in "Interaction of Color" - canon reading - is that a color plane, placed behind another color plane, will subtract itself from the color it is placed behind. So a blue plane behind a purple one will make the purple one look red. Anyway, in this Albers via Atkins, there's a gray plane in front of a blue one. So the blue should be subtracted from the gray, making it look orange. And we noticed in that gray field a little smudge of orange paint. This proved that Atkins really understood Albers, and wasn't just making fun of it. That sold us. Atkins' satires are simultaneously homages, just with a wink along with the applause.

Comments:
Atkins is a painter's painter too, they seem very much his own paintings.
 
I find it completely unfathomable how someone can stomach this kind of painting...sooooooooooooooooo
academic
 
I was actually having a decent evening till I linked from this page to those paintings, now I got depressed, and am left questioning why I ever look at art blogs
sorry for caustic vibes
 
Nice td, you paid attention in class also. Now in addition to all the fairs this week I have to see this show too, wheew...
 
anonymous, we can't help you with your depression. We recommend that you seek professional help.
 
jeff craig, what do you mean by that? In what way is it academic?
 
There are no flashing lights. no neon, yet!. Now there's epidemic!
As you kind of mention, the pieces that work best are those stoked utilizing 'radical works' that did away with the picture plane as we knew it. Wayne offers sweet love and a little personal kiss, even a twist along the personal mix, that urges us to wish upon the moon the dish to go home with the spoon once again. We are the flowers,
the daubs and icons, the salutes, the posit-avatars, the bygones. We are the avid art collectors whizzing around the airspace on the plane, painting sweet promises with the brush.
 
Academic like you should know Lewitt in order to read them?
Anon you should go to Faye at Hunter CUNY office of student services for psychotherapy which is included in yer admission tix.
best of luck with the blues.
 
dont worry about homage or not,..enjoy the paintings for what they are suppose to look like. An unconsidered compostion of the random crap that we like to do all held together by paint.
Funny calling this academic.. cause I'm not sure what isn't. Theres a guy in Canada doing something like this if you don't like the overt art history references. Etienne Zack.
 
Was thinking about the Jerry Saltz warning and I interpret it kinda like this. In music, artists write songs about the music business/world and get more of the unwanted attention that they sing about. I think you invite alot of criticism of your work because there are so many facets to art when you try to tackle it as only subject..probably both homage or critique. I guess he's saying buckle up if you want to go there.
 
poppy, thanks for the tip about etienne zack; we'll check it out.

Do you think these were actually "unconsidered" or do they just look unconsidered?

Sort of like just-rolled-outta-bed hairstyling?
 
poppy, good point about the many facets of art as subject. Probably one of Atkins' weaknesses is using only the appearance of the art objects while ignoring their means of production and surrounding context. So he engages them in only a superficial manner: the Sol Lewitt pentagram resembles a devil-worshipper's pentagram, but is that really worth addressing? Or maybe the lo-brow to hi-brow juxtapositions restores some rigor to his idea.
 
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