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Disagreeing with Charlie Finch

Jules de Balincourt, “Holy Arab,” 2007, oil on panel, 34x 34�

Louis Cameron, “African-American Unity Flag (after Vincent W Paramore),” 2009, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 60″

Wendy White, “Dotte,”2010, acrylic on canvas, 82 1/4 x 96”

Marlene Dumas, “Charity,” 2010, oil on linen, 43-1/4 x 50-5/8″

Charlie Finch chewed out painters at artnet last week. His complaints?  Marlene Dumas is vague and lazy, Jules de Balincourt is a perfect storm of bad painting, Louis Cameron is utterly awful, and Wendy White is nothing but a crappy sign painter.  “I guess the rationale for aesthetic distortion to the point of entropy is that we live in a multi-valent, overstimulated technical world, so that it is simply amazing that any painter can make anything at all…. The background of this stuff is totally fascinating and the execution is utterly awful: washed-out colors badly painted to a brittle conclusion that undermines the strength and brilliance of the mimicked sources. But that description nicely summarizes Dumas, de Balincourt, White, and, dare I say it, Luc Tuymans as well. The soft, haphazard gesture beckons to the lazy collector and painting is reduced to nothing but shades of gray.”

Naturally, at Two Coats of Paint, we disagree.

Wendy White: Up w/Briquette,” Leo Koenig, Inc., New York, NY. Through May 22, 2010.

Louis Cameron: The African-American Flag Project,” A-20, New York, NY. Through May 1, 2010.





  1. Can we get a better rebuttal? Leaving the post the way it is now makes me believe that what Balincourt says is right. Of course I disagree with him as well… I think. Can we expand upon WHY he is off the mark?

  2. Finch's criticisms are so broad, it's hard for anyone who's interested in contemporary painting to take them seriously. Anyone want to take a stab at it?

  3. Finch wants it both ways. He slams these examples and then suggests a rationale by which they resist or elude his very standards.

    So which is it? Are they awful painters, or painters that take an awful approach to awful content?

    The only thing lazy or sloppy here is Finch's own thinking and his inability to discriminate form from content. But that's nothing new for him.

  4. Finch does sound like someone who is utterly clueless about the contexts of contemporary painting. He esp. misses the mark with Wendy White (Jessica Stockholder in a trash compactor??) as opposed to seeing her work in the tradition of gestural abstraction with references to Twombly, Basquit and Mary Heilmann.
    I don't really know where to start with his criticism of Balincourt's painting as it doesn't really make any sense. Its crazy that among other things he refers to Balincourt as messy when I find his paintings to be elegantly refined and organized in their own way, esp. the image posted here on this site. And then there is the Neil Jenny thing he mentions which I don't really see at all..
    I have to say though I don't nesc. disagree with Dumas as lazy and vague…although the vague part doesn't really bother me anywhere as much as the lazy part. I tend to agree with Saltz and others about Dumas and think she is pretty over-rated.

  5. What Finch says about Jules sounds like more of a personal attack.
    It was totally uncalled for. He owes Jules an apology.

    With the exception of White, I believe that these painters can, and have done better work.

    But none of them deserve the harshness that he severs up.
    It’s not what he said as much as how he says it.

    But with that said. I think this article will only draw more attention
    to the artist mentioned.

    Explore for yourselves and make your own decision.

  6. Dumas is only relly good when she can concentrate on the figure in close-up or isolation. She is quite limited in that way, although within that I think she achieves some remarkable things.

    The recent show at Zwirner saw her venturing into landscape really, and although with loaded political content, the thing is she just doesn't really have a feel for those kind of spaces or scale.

    She over-reaches, perhaps with the best intentions, but the pictures failures do her cause no good either. I can't blame her for trying, but there's a fairly harsh lesson for her about her own abilities and scope.

  7. I have many issues with Dumas. I think her color is safe, easy and cliche- in that 90s Luc Tuymans way that wasn't particularly that great to begin with. Her physical grasp of paint is poor, there is little sense of an understanding of the materiality of the medium- the paint looks dry, bland, and uninspired-ly thin (as opposed to really using washes, etc). Lastly her subject matter is even more predictable and cliched; normally something bleak and somber painted with a level of distance so it doesn't look juvenile but instead "sophisticated", typical of much post- Gerhard Richter art that deals with heavy and/or depressing themes.
    Yeah, I really don't see what all the fuss is about with Dumas. I guess for collectors they strike a nice balance between having "challenging" subjects and being undemanding enough visually to sit perfectly well in tasteful decor.
    But as far as painting, White and Balincourt are far more sophisticated, distinctive and original.

  8. When Finch is good, he's great fun. When he's wrong, he just sounds like he's being provocative for the sake of it. Just as any painter with longevity is going to produce work that is sometimes good and sometimes not so good. The trouble with the blanket condemnation is that it invites instant disagreement, and precludes an argument about why Marlene Dumas, for one, might be producing the best work of her life.

  9. I don't think you can separate awful approach or awful content from the awful painter however much our contemporary society likes to separate the artist from the art.

    What I like about Finch is he at least says something brash and uncorrect. We need more incorrect speakers so we can clarify how and what we truly believe.

    As for these painters, even though I have not seen their shows, I feel they are part and parcel of the contemporary art marketplace. They fit in perfectly with our contemporary separation of thought, feeling and spirit.

    I find them either limp, trite, or undone. They tend toward the facile and away from the struggle.

  10. I think Finch is correct though it would be nice if he would elaborate on his opinion. There is a sameness with much contemporary painting; various trends offered over and over again. Take a look at the publication New American Paintings for evidence of this. Tuymans and Dumas are two of the originators of these trends (along with Richter, Doig, and some others) and have created interesting and good work. The problem is with everyone else just out of an MFA program trying to do the same things.

  11. Or you could say that all the leading painting have been from the wrong side of the Atlantic for some time now, and NY critics in particular feel frustration (even indignation) where they can find no native champions to rival them. Suddenly the game is boring, when you don’t win. This is a familiar theme in American sports.

    It’s not that there aren’t good American painters out there right now; so much as they slip under Finch’s fairly limited radar. Finch wants — better than Tuymans or Dumas, where he really ought to be shunning them as points of reference — proposing a different lineage or history, dutifully weighted to American, if not NY, painters.

    The problem is really between Finch’s ample but inefficient ears. The main reason NY critics don’t like Marlene Dumas is that she’s not Kim Dingle and political art always makes the market nervous.

  12. Tuymans…..the whole crew that Finch attacks (-and he is correct-) are essentially the academics/ theory crowd/denizens of the institutions having their revenge upon painting by empowering and getting behind completely de-skilled, feeble, dadaesque objects masquerading as painting -buttressing the tired idea that painting is dead. Its a scam. I am a fairly well known painter – I've done it for a long time. The only thing that is consistent in someone like Tuymans work is is utter incompetence, almost (despite his claims to the contrary,) complete ignorance about painting. Contrary to the claims made n=by equally ignorant supporters, the paintings are not rich and luscious -but rather, thin, painted at a sunday painter amateur level at best.

    Its interesting -how contemporary architecture or design or dance -have taken modernity and evolved -where with these errrrr….. 'painters' if they were say architects, would probably be involved in the construction of very poorly made mud huts -accompanied no doubt with reams of theoretical construct.

    I think Finch has been bold and acted with courage. Its no secret if you are involved in the world of high art that very few people actually know much about the language of painting…..so we get the same theoretical blather -with some specious looking rendition of a bad photograph posing as the object, pretending to be a painting.

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