Contributed by Zach Seeger / Nora Griffin’s ostensibly playful, jangled paintings, on display at Fierman West, reflect not only a galvanizing appreciation of the moment but also a deep understanding of art history and its connection to the contemporary zeitgeist. There is a sheer, crude brilliance about them, and it is inspiring.
Tubes of paint freed the Impressionists from the constraints of the studio and let them work en plein air. This opened up the world, allowing them to capture light and the bourgeoisie in full and cast aside traditional painting’s constraining fealty to architecture and grand narrative. The Impressionists also made Paris the center of the art world. Fast forward to post-World War II. New York is now that center, with homespun heroes brooding all over the place through heady painting, asserting America’s burgeoning cultural hegemony. The United States by way of New York remained the prime driver of Western culture, absorbing and recycling capital through Pop, Minimalism, institutional and cultural critique of the simulacrum, corporate placating, dystopian post-9/11 landscapes, post-financial crash zombie formalism, and anti-Trump new figuration. The place (the city) and the medium (painting, among others) legislated cultural relevance.
As the pandemic has shattered conceptions of the quotidian, New York’s place-to-be status has waned, to an extent disempowering the putative prognosticating coolness of the New York artist. Griffin’s show – sublimely titled “Liquid Days” – gently yet so effectively resists this phenomenon. It certainly constitutes a valentine to downtown painting and to the city in general, but it is also a defiant reclamation of the power of New York. With deceptive nonchalance, she re-insinuates painting into structure, place, and meaning. The work’s sprawling schematic color gobbles up humble dollar-stores as well as art history, projecting both naive optimism and artistic resilience. It is the ideal inaugural exhibition for David Fierman’s new space in a raw and skeletal in-situ storefront with contrarily intact subway tiles on Pike Street’s promenade to the less-than-bustling ferry: at once a paean to the old New York, an acknowledgement of its present challenges, and a proclamation that it will endure and prosper.
Only Griffin could pull off a show so seemingly incongruous, blending transition with tradition. The paintings are, for the most part, massive constructions painted with exuberant splashes, blobs, and layered paint that create a schematic artifact that would make David Batchelor proud. Their squareness, artist frames (Frank Moore), and embedded found objects romanticize the joy of knowing a painting’s formal material history (Elizabeth Murray) and bear a torch for painterly nerdiness in perpetuity. The charm of these canvases radiates the shared joy we feel from the ritual, the whole experience, of seeing art. Whether you’re a city kid visiting Paris for the first time, or a suburbanite on a field trip to the Met, looking at art in person is transporting by virtue of the surrounding place as well as the art itself. And “Liquid Days” is certainly a nod to the artistic scrappiness of 1970s and 1980s New York. While waxing fond and indulging pastiche, however, Griffin’s work is far more than a mere tug at our New York heartstrings. It catapults us to a universe of painted stuff worth not only seeing but also cherishing, including her own.
“Nora Griffin: Liquid Days,” Fierman West, 19 Pike Street, New York, NY. Through July 2, 2022.
About the Author: Zach Seeger is a painter, sculptor, and writer working in Brooklyn and upstate New York. He received his BFA from Binghamton University and MFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design, and has exhibited at Arts + Leisure and Freight + Volume galleries, Crush Curatorial, stARTup Fair LA, Artspace Tetra (in Fukoka, Japan), Life on Mars Gallery, Room 482, and Ortega y Gasset Projects. He is a regular contributor for Two Coats of Paint and teaches painting and drawing at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.