Contributed by Sharon Butler / Laura Owens�s mid-career survey�at the Whitney Museum�features more than�60 paintings, many large-scale and hung salon-style, from the mid-1990s until today. The�work is all over the map, but Owens�s�primary interest lies in�fusing�craft, doodling, sentimental greeting card and children�s book illustration, narrative, pop culture, and digital prints�into a big happy mess.�In the press release, the curator notes that the Whitney�has “a longstanding commitment to Owens, who has been featured in two Biennials, and is significantly represented in the Museum�s collection.� That may be so, but Owens’s�madcap approach�strikes�me as out of touch for these brooding times — the�political situation is simply too mortifying for me to appreciate so much fun. Other�artists tell me they’re glad to see such�a lively show because it�takes their minds off the�terrifying juggernaut known as the Republican Party. Don�t miss the�essay her mother wrote for the catalogue/artist�s book that was�produced in conjunction with the exhibition. It’s priceless.
A long-time �Owens fan, Roberta Smith says:
Ms. Owens loves painting but she�approaches it�with a rare combination of sincerity and irony. Distinguished by a sly, comedic beauty, her work has a playful, knowing, almost-Rococo lightness of being in which pleasure, humor, intelligence and a seductive sense of usually high color mingle freely. Her polymorphous way with motifs and materials recalls the German maverick Sigmar Polke; her intense forward propulsion is not unlike Frank Stella�s.
Laura Owens, Untitled, 2015, acrylic, oil, vinyl paint, and silkscreen ink on linen, 108 x 84 inches
�Laura Owens,� organized by Scott Rothkopf and Jessica Man, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. Through�February�4, 2018.
Conversation: Rebecca Morris and Kate MacNamara
The strategic now
Part II: Los Angeles Report
Glad to see some doubts cast on her message: Subsequent reviews such as Salle’s and Yau’s kind of muddy the waters of the Owen’s opus. Or at least open up the discussion of her work to different interpretations.
What may explain the hyperbole about Owens is that she comes out of the anti-modernist group of Provisional and Casualist painters that tried to deconstruct the Greenbergian modernist hegemony.It has a lot of admirers and Salle as a neo-expressionist sees himself as a forerunner having pursued the same anti-modernist road along with Schnabel who reinvented himself as a Provisional painter. I think what they forget is that on her way to stardom Owens started looking more like Stella and lost her casual wit. Clearly she wanted to move out of the pack of Provisionalist painters. I think this is why Roberta Smith makes a fool of herself praising an artist who barely resembles the artist she once admired.