I’m standing in the Mario Testino; IN YOUR FACE show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and I hear three ladies a little older than me (I’m 49) talking about how upset they are about the way that a doberman is represented in a large photo of Gisele Bündchen’s husband. They thought someone must have taunted the dog in order to get it to respond the way it does in the photo. Mind you, they are in a room filled with photos of women in various highly erotic and problematic situations. But the dog. That really gets them.
I don’t write about work that doesn’t excite me, so you may be wondering about why I am writing about Testino. The show did excite me. It made me think about a lot of things. I don’t care for the work. At all. But it did make me think about some things. First of all was the thought, why this work? Why here? Why now?
It’s not that it is photography. I happen to love contemporary photography. And it’s not that the show is filled with many many pictures of sexy women. Even the few images of men in the show are photographed like sexy women. I like sexy women. I enjoy pictures of a half-naked Mrs. Tom Brady from behind, too (there are quite a few of them in the show). You may be shocked to find out that gay men, myself included, have been socialized in an image culture dominated by the eroticized and available female body. I’m gay, I’m not dead.
What the Testino work reifies is that eroticized and available body as a tool of capital, but the show tries to re-present the work in the context of art – specifically the art of portraiture. ”Sex Sells” could be the name of the show instead of “In Your Face.” (Truthfully, it should have been called “Money Shot.”) The work is to be judged as independent from its means and purpose. These are images that are aligned with the production of objects and aid in the promotion of the commodities depicted. OK. I’m fine with that. But now, I have to look at these images, writ large (and in some cases, crazy large) and the MFA asks me to consider them outside of their origin as advertising and promotion. I think that is a hard thing to do. Without the magazine, what are these pictures? (And since every picture has been produced in a magazine or for a promotional purpose, why are there no photos allowed? Everyone who buys a fashion publication has access to Testino’s images, so why are they excluded from personal consumption when they are in the museum?)
The exhibition is on walls a color that could only be described as “Conde Nast Green.” It is dark and illuminated with spots and frames that contain light. This adds a great theatricality and import to the pictures. A giant image of a glamorously sweaty J. Lo-as-a-boxer arrests you before you are confronted with an enormous image of a
blackfaced tanned Lady Gaga. There is an aluminum rail with label information that keeps you from getting too close to the pictures. The darkness and the spotlighting, the sudden gleam on the aluminum, and the images of beautiful people and the “beautiful people” all conspire to turn the entire space into an exclusive club where it is completely plausible that you would see Kate Moss at the next table, and OH MY GOD THERE SHE IS! It’s the only time you’ll ever be this close to people like this.
This is going to sound harsh, but I really got tired of the images very quickly. They say it’s hard to make a bad photo of a beautiful subject. I don’t think Testino’s pictures are bad, that’s not really the point. They just are uninteresting in light of the the truly innovative and powerful images of other people working in fashion. So many of his images look like the work of other photographers that it is hard to see what the appeal of the work is if you know anything about fashion photography over the last 40 years. It’s not that the pictures are quotations of previous work on which he then expounds; he is simply redeploying the tropes set forth by other fashion photographers. He tries to talk about fashion’s relationship to fetishism but he just ends up trying to channel the perversion of Helmut Newton; and Testino’s theatricality squelches any erotic charge. He tries to talk about the private erotic world of women, and he just reveals the enormous debt he owes to the truly amazing Ellen von Unwerth, who is able to make women sexual objects without stripping them of their agency along with their clothes. He even tries to mimic Wolfgang Tillmans in his photos of “kids being kids” in Amsterdam and his “alternative” installation techniques (some photos are printed on photo paper and tacked to the wall) but you end up looking at the labels on the kids clothes to discern what the ad is for. You don’t believe for a second that these images, or any of the images in the show, have any life outside of their editorial or promotional function.
That’s not to say that there are not some amazing photos in the show. I do have to say though that every picture that was knock out fantastic had one of two elements: Kate Moss or Tom Ford for Gucci. I don’t know why. If I had to guess, I think it is because Tom Ford really knows how to make clothes that make you want to fuck the people wearing them. That and I think it may be impossible to take a bad photo of Kate Moss (even the blogs documenting her without make-up or her “bad teeth” can’t diminish her otherworldly radiance). So one has to wonder what is the secret of the success of these pictures over the other. Testino is quoted in the wall text talking about each photo being a “colloboration.” Maybe the particular vision of Tom Ford-era Gucci or the peculiar devotional relationship between camera lenses and Kate Moss was what enabled these images to be so successful independent of their function as ads.
This is maybe the thing that made me so interested in this show; so many images in the show and so few of them resonate with me outside of their origin or the moment when I first saw them in magazines. Why is that? And why is this the contemporary fashion photographer that the Museum wants to put forth for a larger consideration? The only reason I can think of is that Testino is easier than Newton, or von Unwerth, or David LaChappelle or Jurgen Teller or any other photographer who makes work about or with fashion. The Testino images at their most radical don’t generate the tremendous heat of a von Unwerth or inspire the pearl-clutching gasp of a Newton. There is a Testino photo of a woman wearing nothing but a large mirrored collar on her hands and knees. Next to her is a glass of champagne. (I’d post a photo but, I wasn’t allowed to take any.) It sounds like it would be a demeaning image (and it kind of is) but it’s also just a boring photograph about “decadence.” The quotation is clearly Newton’s Saddle I, Paris (at the Hotel Lancaster), 1976 (part of the Sleepless Nights folio). The image is problematic to be certain, but there is a real commitment to imaging fetishization, femininity, servitude, decoration, and power. Newton is all in; he’s not holding anything back for propriety and that’s what made (and makes) him so shocking in the world of fashion and in the world of art. His image is an unsettling re-presentation of the consequences of desire. How horrible would it be if you got what you wanted? This is what your desire looks like. It’s obscene and wrong and so hot that you can’t tell anyone about it. But here it is. It’s not just a photo decadence, it is decadent. And you cannot look away, can you? (It really is a shame that the Helmut Newton retrospective hasn’t travelled here.)
That’s the core of it really. (And it is spelled out by the separation from the sexless Royal portraits upstairs and the other photos downstairs. The black and white seriousness of the Royals reinforces notions of purity. If Testino is channeling Newton downstairs, he’s certainly trying to be Lord Snowdon upstairs.) Testino’s pictures skate on the surface of sex; they don’t dive down into the realms of sexuality they claim to be about. The exchange of power and agency that comes in the give and take of sexual experience is absent from these pictures. That absence makes the work palatable and manageable. Even the title “In Your Face” projects an idea of transgression that the work never reaches. Instead it’s crime without breaking any laws, domination without leaving any scars, and sex without shedding any tears. Because he is so willing to adapt the truly radical discoveries of other artists and marry them to advertising he is able to create titillating work that encourages staring, but doesn’t make you feel badly for looking. You aren’t implicated in any of these pictures. Your position as an uninvolved spectator is affirmed. It really is like flipping pages in a magazine.
I wanted to say to the ladies who were so upset about Brady and the doberman, “Don’t worry, I’m sure no one was hurt in the making of any of these pictures.”
A lot of my friends have been emailing me about this article in the Guardian about the wonderful Dave Hickey deciding to leave the world of art. Doyen of American critics turns his back on the ‘nasty, stupid’ world of modern art.
I have nothing but love and respect for Dave Hickey and I applaud him for refusing to be part of the machine for making value in place of intellectual discourse. His BEAU MONDE exhibition at SITE Santa Fe was exquisite. His understanding of beauty as transgression was and is a theoretical construction that has been a tremendous help in my studio.
I don’t think of him as an “art critic.” I think of him as an intellectual who thinks deeply about art. I can’t blame him for not wanting his intellect connected to the assignment of quality for investors who care about return, and not art. There is nothing stranger than seeing collector tours, led by critics, museum directors or curators, on a forced march through an art fair. Hickey didn’t create that circumstance; the fair is a function of trading and selling, not criticism. And his writing is very much against what is posited but the idea of the fair.
Remember, Hickey was vilified by writers for THE INVISIBLE DRAGON. Artists embraced the book, because it valued the eye, the hand, skill, and commitment in the making of art. It was seen as reactionary. And I can remember seeing copies of AIR GUITAR in every studio I walked into (that is, every studio where someone was making something). It’s interesting now that a lot of the artists in BEAU MONDE are still working and making interesting work. (Josiah McElheney, Stephen Prina, Jorge Pardo, Pia Fries and Alexis Smith to name a few.)
I remember years ago when I was in graduate school and Hickey came to speak at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. He smoked during the lecture. He was ribald and funny and was quick on his feet in responding to questions and challenges to his intellect. This was in 2000. Some one asked him why he was afraid of the internet. He laughed and said he wasn’t frightened of virtual reality; reality offered far scarier things.
He also said something about time-based art (which he talked about with an affected academic accent). He said, and I’ve never forgotten this, “Time-based art teaches you how to watch it.” I thought that was profoundly astute and liberating for someone who was making paintings. It felt like a confirmation, that I could do something that wouldn’t telegraph itself to the viewer, instead, the viewer could come to their own understanding of looking.
I don’t see myself as outside of the discourse produced, supported, and sustained by artists, educators, theorists, curators, critics, and institutions. That’s the artworld I’m in and the one that create(d) the context in which I work. Because of that, it is sad to see a thinker like Hickey leave the argument. I for one, think that artists have been too reliant on non-artists, critics, and curators for the framing of their work. It’s long past time that artists start writing about their work, the work of their peers and the culture at large. Some artists do this brilliantly and have been doing it for a while (the brilliant Mira Schor and Phong Bui at the Brooklyn Rail are making great contributions) but there needs to be more.
Hickey isn’t an artist and he doesn’t write or talk like an academic. He trusts his eyes. He talks about what he sees and why it is interesting. And when he doesn’t find something interesting he has the stones to say so, no matter who owns it. That is not a supported discourse in today’s artworld where the critic is a cheerleader for work based on its market value. Now that criticism is reduced to a game piece in the strategy of building market value, I can’t blame Hickey for wanting to be done with it. Who wants to play a game once the rules are changed?
This text is in response to the talk I gave at the Sackler about this work. I want to thank Susan Dackerman, Erin Loeb, and Jessica Martinez for the opportunity to come speak at the Sackler.
I have a tremendous love for the work of Kerry James Marshall.
So I was completely thrilled when I heard that the Harvard Museums had acquired Untitled, his 12-panel woodcut and installed it at the Sackler Museum. The first time I saw this piece was in New York at Jack Shainman. It seemed to big for the space then. It was almost impossible to understand it as an image because the space didn’t allow for the gestalt of seeing the entire thing. It could also be my youth and my inability to understand what the work was positing, and how, in so many ways, Untitled reveals Marshall as an artist who locates his practice in the core of the Western tradition of art.
The Sackler has two ways to approach the work. Those using the elevator have to walk through many of the masterpieces of the collection. (The Harvard Museums are being renovated and the Sackler is filled with some of the great works of the collections of the Fogg and the Busch-Reisinger as well as objects from the Sackler.) You essentially approach the piece after walking through the history of art. If you come up the stairway, you leave the Sol LeWitt and walk up many stairs through the earth toned concrete atrium to the fourth floor of the museum. These two journeys, one through history and the other from the ground to the sky, affect how you approach Untitled.
Opening the darkened door after climbing all of those stairs you see the first panel of the work, which spans the entire rear wall of the gallery. The size of it is overwhelming. And the process of woodcut applied to this particular scale of image making shows a mastery of the technique. The 9-color print is made up of 4 x 8 sections, the size of plywood. Marshall uses a building material to make an image of an architectural space. The remnants of the wood grain haunt the image with the history of it’s making.
We start in the first panel with a view from high up. We can see the city below us and the edge of a yellow brick building. Then the severe black lines of the frames of the work come into view; they reinforce the perspectival grid system of Alberti that Marshall uses to create the sense of deep space in the work. As we look from left to right, we see the reframing of space. We have entered not just a skyscraper, but someone’s home were a group of men are assembled, having coffee, eating, talking, engaged with each other. A hallway leads to a bedroom. The wall turns and black rectangles decorate and the surfaces.
It’s a really strange image.
First, we are outside, high in the air. Then, as suddenly we are close enough to a window where we can see the flowers in the window box. Do skyscrapers have window boxes? That could prove sort of dangerous. There is a window but we cannot see into the space, but then suddenly, we are in the space. And the ground of the room is green and textured, more grass than carpet. So we are outside looking in, and then the inside has element of the outside. We were high up and now we are in the same space as this grouping of men. Six men in two groups. Having coffee, eating, talking.
Marshall reveals his deep interest in the history of art without making a post-modern “pastiche” of style. He makes a stage set of perspectival relationships in the room. The bench is the central perspectival device (it is also very similar to the George Nelson benches in the gallery.) We are with these men in their appointed, modernist space. The black squares on the wall reference Malevich. Using the co-terminus space of baroque painting and marrying it to the severity of the perspectival grid, Marshall collapses the distance between us and these men. He also uses the pyramidal composition of Raphael to create these monumental groupings of men, who declare and frame the space with the gestures and placements of their bodies. They point with their limbs and their gazes. The twist of the figure on the left shows the influence of Mannerism and its emphasis on the extreme action of the body. The hands and plates establish the planes in the same way that Manet uses his figures in Le déjeuner sur l’herbe. In fact, the grass in the living room is a direct link to that moment, when a painting becomes a declaration of a constructed truth.
Continuing through the room (in the sixth panel) we see that one of the plates does not seem to “agree” with the planes suggested in the rest of the image, thus declaring a different kind of space. The difference here makes other differences clearer. Marshall uses brown in two of the figures, the coffee server, and the man with crossed arms. There are linked on a strong diagonal in the composition which is split by the square vase on the table. This split to me talks about a certain idea of doubling and time.
There is a small painting in Harvard’s collection called The Judgment of Paris. It is a depiction of the event that causes the Trojan war. The interesting thing for our discussion is that there are two depictions of the same group of people on opposite sides of a panel split by a flowering tree. Common elements are repeated and illustrate the narrative; the golden apple that Paris holds on the right is held by Venus on the left. Nature acts as a divider, and an indicator of the passage of time. In light of this, it is possible that instead of a depiction of six people, Untitled could be one grouping of three people at two different times.
Because of its size and scale, Untitled is experienced in time, not just visually. Like Eakins’s Swimming Hole, each figure leads you to the next in the composition and the pyramidal composition in both paintings lends a sense of monumentality. But unlike Eakins, where your eye tracks the movement of what could be a single body in a smaller scaled painting, Marshall makes you move your body to experience the image. Once you enter the room, what you can see from one part of the house you cannot see from another. Therefore, we experience this as two groups of men in a vast domestic space. For all the focus on the figure grouping, there is a tremendous amount of space in this picture that is absent of activity on first examination.
The image offers a sense of domestic life, of privacy, of community, of home, of rest and restoration. There is a safe place to gather and a safe place to rest. In light of Marshall’s other work, most notably the heartbreakingly beautiful Souvenirs (there is a glorious one at the Addison Gallery at Phillips Academy), I look at this image as a respite. In the Souvenirs, a luminous black angel prepares a place for us; a bit of heaven, as it were. She prepares a place to mourn. This place is absent of participants, but the angel looks out at us. Untitled may posit the use of that space of mourning prepared in the Souvenirs. Where else but heaven could a group of black men relax and have privacy and safety to speak their minds to and for each other? It also makes me think about the two brown figures and the groups split by the vase. Is one side the past and the other the present? The two brown figures actually seem to face each other. Are they “real” and the other figures memories? Or ghosts? These questions shift the functions and readings of the black rectangles in the image. They are clear references to Malevich and Mondrian (vis-a-vis the verticals of the black frames and in the later panels that hint as well to Ellsworth Kelly), but they also carry the weight of absence and death. You stand at one end of the work and look down the vast length of it to the black square at the other end. That square pulsates and vibrates as you approach it. The small overprinted head on the last panel is like a reflection in a dark mirror. We are in the “upper room” physically (we just walked up that illuminated staircase to the top of the Sackler) and visually.
If I told you there is an image of six black men at the Sackler, what would you think? What could you image? I am guessing that one would not imagine a group of men in a pink room having coffee. The history of blackness in art, and of black maleness in particular, has been strongly tied to narratives of violence, separation, anger, exoticism, and hypersexuality. Or they are represented as an historical occurrence, reinforcing the notion that black people are somehow outside of contemporary life. This is not to say that there are not “positive” or “favorable” images of black people in art, but to say that when black people appear in art, they are nothing but their blackness – they are not human, they are indexes. (You can see this in the gorgeous Ingres Odalisque with a Slave that is directly opposite Untitled in the next room. This work uses images of blackness and exoticism to eroticize the possessions of the empire. They are things to be looked at. In the Marshall, we are participants in the action in the room. It is a key difference that talks about the nature of subjectivity and the possibility of agency.)
Marshall takes on the reductive notions of blackness. By using that color, and he is a master of the color black in the same way that Alex Katz is a master of the color pink, he expands its pictorial and poetic possibilities. In Untitled, black is flesh, fabric, and furniture. It varies in density and texture. It is warm and cool. It is figure and it is ground. It is structure. It is public and private, heavenly and earthly. In unpacking the color formally he shows that it can be many different things visually and socially. We can actually think about it as a color and not a label. It is a site of possibility. And placing black people in contemporary art affirms their presence in life as it is lived today.
There is a vast amount of space in Untitled that is devoid of the body (although images promoting the piece feature the body). These are hallways we pass through, spaces we negotiate to get to another space – blank areas whose blankness is reinforced by formal placement of rectangles of pulsating blackness. Places where nothing happens. Talking Heads have a lyric that posits heaven to be “a place/where nothing/nothing ever happens.” Another part of the lyric really captures what I feel when I look at this work: “It’s hard to imagine/that nothing at all/can be so exciting/can be so much fun.”
The visible world, I think, is abstract and mysterious enough, I don’t think one needs to depart from it in order to make art.
A lot of times during slide talks, there is this kind of disclaimer for painting, “You have to see it in person to really appreciate it.” I am not altogether certain this is true anymore. Now, with the number of people who are using graphic strategies, computer and otherwise, we are in an time where paintings reproduce very well. I call it the Era of Camera Ready Painting. It’s as if the WYSIWYG aesthetic of the web has taken over the ability to see, and these paintings offer nothing in person that you can’t get from a reproduction. I have students look at art work on line and feel like they have seen the real thing and when I look at the paintings in which they are showing interest I think, “Well, maybe you have seen the real thing.”
Which brings me to the achievement of Daniel Rich.
I want to say as clearly as possible that these paintings are completely different and luscious in person. To see them in reproduction is to not see them at all. Most of the larger works in Daniel Rich: Platforms of Power are painted in acrylic on dibond. There are a couple that contain enamel as well. The main features of acrylic are the range of colors, its drying time and its flatness. These things conspire to make rather uninteresting surfaces or, worse yet, tend to make paintings that look like naugahyde. In Rich’s hand the material has an amazing luminescence I have not seen in acrylic works – especially works at such an enormous scale. The paintings carry and emit so much light that they are in conversation of most of the large-scale light box photography of the past 25 years. The technical acumen and reserve of Rich’s painting expose the tired bombast of that photographic work and posit a calculated and sustained intimacy that results in an overwhelming image. You don’t wonder how Rich makes a painting, his methods are clear. What you do wonder about is the dizzying change in perception that has to take place between the painting each individual window in a North Korean hotel complex and seeing the overall green cast landscape. This shift, this dislocation, is how we experience our relationship to power and its hegemonic presence. In the presence of contemporary power, we have no indications of whom we are to worship, but we kneel just the same.
Because the subject of the work is the locus of power it is fitting that Rich’s project makes us feel a sense of awe at modernist structures and the tools of capital. There is no way you will be able to look at a server farm of the colored seats in a stadium the same way after seeing these paintings; Rich makes the architecture of power downright sexy. It’s as if the world was perfect (read: absent of humans), or re-imagined by Donald Judd’s aesthetic sensibility. The oppressive nature of this vision is put into the sexy, sleek, elegant package of the paintings. Rich puts us in a position of looking desirously at the architecture of government, sport, data, and commerce. He heightens their interest with deft handling of color and surface, the tools any painter worth the name uses in the language of seduction. BT Tower London has a clear relationship to the work of Charles Sheeler, but Rich’s articulation of modernist form is more about undulation than angle. His paintings touch the edges of their supports in inelegant ways that belie their source in photographs and provide a disruption where Sheeler offers balance. Rich is not painting markers of repression and balance. Like Patrick Bateman, the anti hero of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, Rich’s work is an expression of sexy perfection of unchecked power. This is powerful work to contemplate in this moment of OCCUPY, the 99%, the 47%, and the ongoing discussion of the nature of contemporary capitalism.
Al Miner has put together a handsome show. There are a lot of paintings here and there are some smaller scale works that are real gems. The fact that Miner has installed them as ancillary works is wise, they would have been overwhelmed by the other paintings in this installation, though in another space any one of the smaller works would hold the wall. It’s nice to see a curator made a decision for the work that reveals an artist’s range without making the show look like “greatest hits.” (I’m also thrilled that all of the children’s art is no longer in the contemporary wing for this show. I’m hoping it never comes back.)
The repetitive shapes of contemporary life become achingly endless color intervals that are supported by the stenciled precise drafting of the paintings. That their subtle gloss and gleam allows the reflected presence of the viewer to enter them briefly in no way diminishes the work. In fact, the paintings make you a ghost in the landscape of power, a sensuous world that excludes your body, and rewards your eyes.
There hasn’t been a Susanna Coffey show in Boston in a long time. It’s been long overdue. She continues to be one of my favorite artists since she changed my life in a studio visit in graduate school. Her last solo show at Alpha Gallery was in 2004. Her work has really changed in the intervening years. It’s really incredible to see an artist of this caliber and consistency move into new territory with such verve. These are paintings that challenge and evoke instead of represent.
For most of the time I’ve known her work, Coffey has set up a contest, a meeting, an encounter in the studio. The artist and the mirror were the consistent elements in the work. The work that came out of that confrontation was a record of time and explored the elasticity of the flesh, the fluidity of identity and the impossibility of freezing the likeness. The paintings were a sum total of observations, they were the history of looking expressed on the surface of the support. This is the thing that so many people do not understand about paintings and especially those paintings that contain something recognizable: that the painting contains the history of time and touch. Every painting is a performance of the artist in the crucible of experience and in Coffey’s case, that crucible is the encounter with the self. In the midst of that encounter she was able to find a painterly equivalent to what she experienced in the mirror. Her mastery of color, tonal intervals, and manipulation of all of the properties of paint made her work a series of fascinations to experience. She is truly a painter’s painter.
The notion of the self portrait expands in her work. The work is less about recording what is seen. It takes on the placement of the subject in act of a human experience, especially in later works when she began to change the orientation of the support to mimic the proportions of the computer screen. This deeply chilling series of paintings, with the artist placing herself in front of images of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had less to do with Cindy Sherman’s “I’m-everyone-and-no-one” ranging across personae and more to do with the particular political moment of an artist trying to come to terms with what was being done in her name.
The show at Alpha is called Apophenia, which is the tendency to see something where there is nothing. It is related to seeing faces in random arrangements of rock formations or animals in the clouds. The paintings in the show mark a return to the traditional proportion of the portrait format, which communicates the notion that you are looking for a head or a body. The show is split into sections which expand and explore this idea in various ways. In the first section, you see what feels like a deep engagement in certain modes of abstract impressionism related to Milton Resnick but, and this is the thing that sets Coffey far beyond most painters, you are deeply aware of a physical presence in each picture. The paintings seems to vibrate at differing frequencies that reveal and conceal themselves to you. Takenaga’s Division, a nod to the artist’s friend the brilliant Barbara Takenaga seems to quote impressionist landscape painting before it becomes an active churning mass that keeps pulsing between figuration, landscape, and non-objective painting. It contains in painted matter and placement the feeling of the “war paintings” without the obviousness of the subject matter. The artist is no longer separate from reality.
This is an exciting time in this body of work. Coffey took on space in the previous work in a radical and exciting way. She could make the mirror invisible in her paintings; there was the sense that the paintings began at her nose and kept going behind her into these completely realized organizations of painterly space. These spaces carried light, energy, history, landscape, whatever the artist needed or “saw” in the mirror.
The difference now is that Coffey is painting a new kind of space, the rich psychological space between her in the mirror. She is painting the interference, the attitudes, the obfuscations between the understanding of the self. This new work makes manifest the difficulty in realizing the self and instead of a hackneyed angst about the unknown, Coffey is able to express some delight in the difficulty of realizing the self. There is a painterly exuberance and deeper material record in the work, the history of the mark making is clearer and more raw. Enormous changes are made in these paintings and they are left bare. And still, every picture bristles with a human surge of energy, despite the metaphoric collapse of the possibility of representation.
To complicate the exhibition, there are some paintings of masks (Yammy is a personal favorite) that should be objects, but actually start to feel more than human. These paintings and paintings of a Buddha statue owned by the late, great Carl Plansky round out the exhibition. We look for humanity in objects, in representations, Coffey is saying. The clarity of approach with the paintings of objects just makes their poetic implications clearer, especially when seen with paintings of the artist merging and emerging from the dense activity of the painted surfaces. The ability to look outward is contrasted with the courage to look inward.
I have to say, I saw some of this work in Coffey’s studio before the show went up and I can attest to the radical changes that some of the paintings went through. Headstand in particular is a painting that is very different that the version I saw in the studio, demonstrating her willingness to eradicate any simple reading of the work. It is really thrilling to see an artist have everything up for grabs in the work, to really engage in the process of painting and in that process discover a new realization of space. It is an affirmation that painting is not magic, it is a deep engagement in performative labor on an object that holds every decision. Because Coffey demonstrates the courage to follow those decisions where they lead she has created a show of paintings that truly feel like apparitions.