April 16, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
If Thomas Pynchon writes systems novels, Steve DiBenedetto makes systems paintings—paranoid, erratic, vaguely interconnected. His latest exhibition, “Mile High Psychiatry,” up through Saturday at Derek Eller Gallery, has an air of zany premonition to it that put me in mind of Pynchon’s Tyrone Slothrop, who in Gravity’s Rainbow predicts rocket attacks with his erections: a carnal dowsing rod. There’s some of that rollicking terror in DiBenedetto’s paintings. You better figure this shit out, they seem to taunt, before your head explodes. (Fittingly, one of the more splattered numbers is called We Blew It.)
DiBenedetto’s earlier work was fixed on helicopters, Ferris wheels, and especially octopi. Those figures are still here, but abstracted, sometimes almost runic, surrounded by formidable blasts of texture and noise. Take the Cannolis and Good Mystic vs. Bad Mystic vs. Tom Carvel conjure brains on the brink of meltdown. Sam Chinita and Biodynamic Radiation have lurid pustules of color, thick enough almost to be popped, like zits. Much of the time you can talk about these paintings as you’d talk about something half buried in your backyard: they seem not just encrusted but mulched in paint and grime. Even the gallery’s release speaks of “scraps and globs and stabs and billows,” to say nothing of “prelinguistic slime.” That release, which I suspect DiBenedetto wrote himself with some relish, is weird enough to quote at length. He says of one painting: Read More »
April 14, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
We’ve featured Etel Adnan, who turned ninety this year, on the Daily before. A Lebanese American poet and artist, Adnan was born in Beirut; she lived in California for some fifty years before moving to Paris. She excels in many media—paintings, tapestries, novels, poems—but the most unique, I think, are her leporellos: accordion-folded booklets of the sort once sold in Victorian England as souvenirs, folding out to reveal panoramic illustrations. Adnan uses them to a variety of ends, often using them as vehicles for unpublished poems and fragments. Some of them are more than six and a half feet long when fully extended; on one of them, she wrote a series of poems in Arabic, a language in which she seldom composes.
These four will be on display at Galerie Lelong, along with some of her paintings and a tapestry, through May 8.
In 2012, she told Nana Asfour,
My writing and my paintings do not have a direct connection in my mind. But I am sure they influence each other in the measure that everything we do is linked to whatever we are, which includes whatever we have done or are doing. But in general, my writing is involved with history as it is made (but not only) and my painting is very much a reflection of my immense love for the world, the happiness to just be, for nature, and the forces that shape a landscape.
Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.
April 2, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
The Belgian artist Hans Op de Beeck’s new show, The Drawing Room, opens tonight at Marianne Boesky Gallery. Among its sculptures and watercolors—painted after nightfall, when “all of the machines in his studio were switched off, the phones stopped ringing, and his staff had left”—is a fifteen-minute animated film, Night Time, produced from some six years of paintings. These three stills give a sense of its perturbing, placid, faintly vatic style: they read as a series of nocturnal establishing shots, each a study in tranquil desolation. They put me in mind of Daniel Lopatin’s synthesizer composition “Zones Without People.” “I just like the spectator to be on his or her own,” the artist told Elephant Magazine in 2011. “Having a fictional or fantasy character sitting there would be like an interruption.”
The Drawing Room shows through May 2. Read More »
March 31, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
“I think I was way oversensitive as a kid, very much easily frightened,” Peter Saul said in an oral history for the Archives of American Art in 2009:
I was frightened of movies, very scared. My mother was quite a fan of film noir and mystery stories by Ellery Queen and things of that type. And she took me to these movies, which by today’s standards would be not only harmless, it would be impossible to imagine any child or human being being scared of. Dressed to Kill  was the first one I remember ... The reason I was scared was because it took place in an old Victorian building like my parents rented at that time. And there was a dumbwaiter that went from the basement, where there had been some servant kitchen, up to the dining room. And in the movie, a hand comes out of the dumbwaiter with a gun and shoots somebody at the dining table.
So anyway, we come into the dining room in the evening. The maid is going to serve the stuff and everything is fine. I realize that my position is with my back to the dumbwaiter. If it were to happen, of course, you know, imagination takes over, you know. I thought, oh, my God; I could be killed this evening.
You can see the aftereffects of this fear in his work, and it’s contagious. To look at a Peter Saul painting is to think, I could be killed this evening—but, you know, I’m kind of looking forward to it. “From Pop to Punk,” a show at Venus over Manhattan featuring his work from the sixties and seventies, brims with candy-colored violence and lush, vibrant grotesqueries. Hundreds of hands (and eyes and tongues) with guns emerge from the dumbwaiters of the mind. Things writhe, stab, choke, and unravel, often simultaneously. Saul, who’s eighty now, describes these as “pictures with problems.”
“Since I’ve become old, I’ve become much more interesting to most people,” he said in his oral history. “I haven’t given up on painting. I think it has to have a good story, and I think that the story was banished from painting too quickly at the end of the nineteenth century.” And Saul is definitely a storyteller—the most interesting one at the campfire, an antic, willfully offensive bard. The narratives in his paintings hover just on the right side of inscrutability, and his fondness for labels (“combined rich and poor asshole” is a personal favorite) helps to demystify, though not, of course, to solve: these are pictures with problems, not solutions.
“From Pop to Punk” shows through April 18. Read More »
March 24, 2015 | by Sarah Cowan
Gary Indiana’s art “recasts voyeurism as wonder.”
Gary Indiana does not have a Web site. If you Google him, you might find his writing scattered among street views and crime reports from the destitute and dangerous place he chose to name himself after. When I asked friends if they knew his art, they told me, Only that LOVE sculpture—the one by Robert Indiana—or, worse, they began to sing that song from The Music Man. Those who do know him, though, rank him among the great American novelists, even if most of his books are out of print. When I looked, all had been checked out of the public library.
Maybe someone like me—curious, researching—had found them first, because at sixty-five Gary Indiana is having what you might call “a moment.” The third solo show of his visual art opened on Sunday night, and when I spoke to him on the phone the following day he told me three more exhibitions are scheduled this year. His books are being reissued, and a “kind of memoir, though we’re not calling it that,” is due in September. Read More »
March 18, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Roz Chast does excellent work on paper—and sure enough, her latest memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, has just won a National Book Critics Circle Award—but I think her real medium is the egg. She’s been doing great things with pysanky (i.e. Ukrainian painted eggs) for at least a decade. Her latest efforts will be on display, along with her cartoons and her work in textiles, at Danese Corey Gallery starting this Friday.
As Alexandra Schwartz explained in the The New Yorker last year, the pysanky tradition goes back to pagan times, “as do the eggs’ motifs: the sun; triangles that represent air, light, and water or birth, life, and death, from long before the Holy Trinity came along; plants and animals; talismanic lines and spirals indicating eternity.” Read More »