Contributed by Sharon Butler and Jonathan Stevenson / Rebecca Morris, a masterly abstract painter who could do pretty if she wanted to, insists that when a painting starts to look beautiful she catches herself on and pivots to more discomfiting territory. That kind of grim integrity and its visual realization has an austere appeal, but there’s no need right now to get into the niceties of infinite regress or meta paradox. Judging by her solo show at Bortolami, parsimoniously titled “#31” after the number of solo shows she has presented during her career, Morris does consciously resist the pursuit of visual beauty and representation. The large-scale oil-and-spray-paint works are all untitled, distinguished only by parenthetical number indicating the year and the order in which the paintings were made. Each canvas is replete with vivid color and divergent shapes but embodies an irresolute and disconsolate state of play. This could ramify for a given viewer in any number of ways – though not, presumably, as lovely.
Contributed by Katy Crowe / Ron Linden’s exhibition “re.dux” at 478 Gallery in San Pedro is a welcome introduction to a large body of visually engaging abstract work that invites interpretation. His reductive, conceptual approach has persisted while evolving. Linden’s palette is minimal, mostly ochre and shades of black with, now and then, red oxide and cobalt blue. Included in his tool kit are staples of traditional painting, commercial and scenic art from which he also borrows tricks of the trade, such as forced perspective, stencils, and faux-finish techniques. The show comprises 16 medium-to-large paintings and a dozen smaller ones installed as a single set. They all adhere to his minimal palette, and most are acrylic and charcoal on canvas, just two on paper. 478 Gallery’s generous exhibition space allows for plenty of air between works, and the consistent palette, punctuated by a spot of red oxide here and there, makes for visual coherence.
Contributed by Barbara A. MacAdam / Where to begin in exploring Charline von Heyl’s formidably eclectic and multifaceted show of new paintings at Petzel Gallery? She embarks on a visual discussion with her mostly nineteenth- and twentieth-century European and American predecessors and counterparts in a tour de force. The show, cluttered yet precisely deployed, demands equally targeted unpacking, close looking, and an individual assessment of each painting on its own terms.
Contributed by David Carrier / Painting with a loaded brush to create heavy layers of pigment by juxtaposing strands of varied colors is a distinctive, philosophically interesting art form. Eugène Leroy (1920–2000), a notable practitioner of it, had real doubt about the validity of the very act of making paintings. So did Alberto Giacometti. They asked when an artwork was finished, and answering the question is a particularly stiff challenge for one who wields a loaded brush. Such an artist tends to feel compelled keep painting until he or she can “get it right,” which may never happen. Repainting, of course, can also simply manifest love of the activity, and the desire that it never end.
Contributed by Margaret McCann / Catherine Mulligan’s captivatingly repellant “Bad Girls Club” at Tara Downs takes irreverent aim at American culture. Creatures of habitual selfies, her satirical painted ladies contend with the pressures of appearance. They would be at home in a John Waters film, where viewing likewise shifts between distaste, amusement, and aesthetics. Mulligan frames each painting with angular, industrial-looking signage that doesn’t detract but, like Polyester’s scratch-and-sniff option, adds a contrasting layer of interest. A zombie-esque girl in Nocturne 2 peeks at us over her shoulder with an intrusive blend of seduction and complicity, a boundary violation that almost breaks the fourth wall. Her grin, like that of Chucky’s bride or Otto Dix’s “Lady in Mink,” portends the unpleasant. But unlike Dix’s fallen women, survivors in post-World War I Germany, Mulligan’s anti-heroines are vapid consumers of leisure.
Contributed by Adam Simon / In a November 2022 article titled “Between Abstraction and Representation” in the New York Review of Books, Jed Perl lamented the equivocating position that many contemporary painters take in relation to abstraction and figuration. In his view, what was once a philosophical battleground, with two strongly held opposing positions, was now seen as merely a choice of equally viable means. His article focused on two artists, Julie Mehretu and Gerhardt Richter – Mehretu for inserting representational imagery in what appear as abstract paintings and Richter for ping-ponging between figuration and abstraction. What Perl doesn’t mention is the rich terrain of indeterminacy that results when artwork hovers between abstraction and figuration. Marcy Rosenblat’s solo show “Undercover,” now up at 490 Atlantic Gallery in Brooklyn, is a particularly successful example.
Contributed by David Carrier / Artist and art writer Joe Fig is interested in how contemporary art is made, viewed, and judged. His book Inside the Artist’s Studio provides a fascinating perspective on the role of the studio. The archly clever paintings in “Contemplating Compositions,” his solo show at Cristin Tierney Gallery, drill down on the presentation of art. Fig’s paintings show people looking at it in museums and galleries. They are small enough to fit into carry-on luggage, and so meticulously painted that they at first appear to be photographs.
Contributed by Anna Gregor / Tess Wei’s black paintings and graphite works on paper are simultaneously material and apparitional, objective and spectral. Darkly painted wood panels hanging starkly against white walls, they are resolutely present as physical objects while at the same time too slippery to grasp visually as static images or compositions.
Contributed by Greg Drasler / “Brush the Heat,” Georgia Elrod’s first solo show at Peninsula Gallery, presents a dozen eclectically composed paintings on stretched and unstretched canvas in a dawn-and-dusky palette, featuring wryly sensuous compositions of intimacy and display. In framing of the pieces as both theatrical and voyeuristic, Elrod aims to make the viewer complicit with the painter in the pleasure of looking. She succeeds.
Contributed by Jason Andrew / With her paintings fetching millions at auction, Shara Hughes has been on a tear. Since 2020, she has had nine solo shows, presenting work from Shanghai to London, Åalborg to Luzern, Aspen to Manhattan. All but three of the 17 paintings in her first show in Los Angeles, titled “Light the Dark” and presently up at David Kordansky Gallery, were made in 2023. Fueling Hughes’s remarkable pace is an unrelenting embrace of paint, with which she balances descriptive and imaginative motifs. Notwithstanding her commercial success, she retains a fearless approach to dismantling conventions, the paintings a cutting edge. As she noted in a 2020 interview, the more she attempts to control the creative direction in her paintings “the worse they are.”