Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson / Painters who accept the challenge of trying to assimilate the advance of technology and metamorphosis of visual culture to the traditional canvas deserve applause and admiration � especially when they succeed. Albert Oehlen approaches the task by filling the rectangle with frenetic digital grotesquery that is often audaciously, courageously ugly. His epochal message is that however ominous or daunting, the jarringly new is inexorable, already part of the world we live in. Berlin-based painter Anne Neukamp, in large new paintings on display with Zachary Leener�s over-electrified phalluses at Lisa Cooley Gallery on the Lower East Side, goes about the task more quietly, with satisfyingly poignant results.
[Image at top: Anne Neukamp, Look-alike, 2015, oil, tempera, acrylic, canvas, 78 x 59 inches.]
On the canvas she celebrates increasingly outmoded but still nominally useful items � straight razors, landline telephones, brass keys, strands of rope, jigsaw puzzles � using bright, glossy colors and placing them front and center against coolly-muted, seemingly weathered backgrounds. Yet she takes the depicted objects outside the context of their marginal functionality, often amplifying the point with an oblique or ironic title. Neukamp applies this approach rigorously, distilling an elegantly sardonic brand of nostalgia.
In Juggler, the razors sit on discombobulated hands, suggesting now unnecessary danger that remains kind of sexy. The keys in Sequence appear to be the size of sidewalk flagstones, like grandly ceremonial �keys to the city� made of gold cardboard, seeking notional tumblers that don�t really unlock. Like a low-tech saboteur, rope ominously slithers up and down what looks like a florid escalator in M�ander (German for �meander�). The silver jigsaw piece in Puzzle, an especially witty painting, seems to be draped in celluloid film, as if to enshrine one effectively obsolete thing with another.
Where Oehlen embraces change and disruption with full-blooded insouciance, Neukamp calmly acknowledges impending disutility with a wry twinge of reverence for what�s fading away. When you notice that the two Western Electric-style phone receivers in Look-alike are apparently poised to rest on memorial pedestals, you get a little wistful for a dial tone.
“Zachary Leener and Anne Neukamp,” Lisa Cooley, LES, New York, NY. Through October 18, 2015.
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