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"PAINTING BEYOND THE IDEA. . ."

[1] [2]

[3] [4]

(1) David Lloyd, "Genus," oil on canvas, 84 x 90", 1995.
(2) John Millei, "Nerve Meter #6," oil/polymer emulsion on canvas, 60 x 45", 1994/95.
(3) Sabina Ott, "Sub Rosa #15/21," oil/encaustic on panel, 86 x 72", 1994.
(4) Lari Pittman, "Just Like You," acrylic on paper, 15 x 22 1/2", 1995.

by Mario Cutajar

(Manny Silverman Gallery,West Hollywood) (Manny Silverman Gallery, West Hollywood) It is doubtful that abstraction started out as a simple repudiation of representation. Indeed, its origins can be traced to attempts at the end of the nineteenth century to extend the range of painting's representational capability to include representation of the subjective qualities the painter brought to the painting. The shift could be characterized as a transition from a pictorial rhetoric of illusion to a rhetoric of allusion which encompassed everything from Symbolism to, eventually, full-blown abstraction.

Nevertheless, from the beginning, abstract painting was also associated with a quest for a primordial language of universal symbols. It came to be regarded by many as a vehicle for unmediated communication. Behind this quest for a culturally-independent pictorial language there was the recognition, not always explicit, that Western culture had entered a period of crisis which deprived its established rhetorical forms of their effectiveness. The consequence was that, by mid-century, abstract painting had come to be conceived of as culturally autonomous and possessing the characteristics of a natural phenomenon. Asked why he didn't paint from nature, Pollock's reply was, "I am nature."

For the Abstract Expressionists their devices seemed perfectly natural, not devices at all. After all, didn't they just sling paint and allow it to drip all over the place? It took Rauschenberg and Johns to make the point that such devices still constituted another system of rhetoric.

Curated by Bennett Roberts, "Painting Beyond the Idea. . ." includes thirteen L.A. painters, and is notable for its inclusion (in an exhibition nominally devoted to abstract painting) of works that are decidedly mixed pedigree alongside others that are as reductive and austere as abstract painting gets.

The artists included to personnify this are Michelle Fierro, Maxwell Hendler, Dennis Hollingsworth, David Lloyd, John Millei, John M. Miller, Ed Moses, Noel O'Malley, Sabina Ott, Lari Pittman, Lucas Reiner, Leonard Seagal, and Pauline Stella Sanchez.

"Painting Beyond the Idea. . ." is a worthy extension of a multi-curatorial effort that has been underway for the last five years or so to examine the effect on abstraction of the post-modernist retreat from the modernist assertion of the autonomy of the art object and the subsequent preoccupation, not to say fixation, with art's inherent artificiality, and thus the proximity between art and perversity.

Evidence of this perversity shows up in many of the works in the exhibition, often as a deliberate goofiness quite at odds with the solemnity one normally associates with early twentieth-century abstraction. That goofiness combines with the artists' determination to give away as little as possible (evinced by a strict avoidance of gesturalism) to reflect another characteristic of the postmodern sensibility: the narcissistic avoidance of vulnerability.

The results lack heroism but, as Roberts observes in a generalization about the artists he has selected for inclusion, they "practice their art in the arena of what is possible."