NAP Contributor Top 5: Erin Langner

On the occasion of the Museum of Modern Art’s show, The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World, New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl recently wrote of painting being in a state of crisis. In response to the show comprised of painters whose “approach characterizes our cultural moment at the beginning of the new millennium,” according to MOMA’s website, Schjeldahl rejects the medium’s outright death. Still unoptimistic, he concludes, “Painting can bleed now, but it cannot heal.”

As someone who has spent a lot of time with paintings over the last few years, I had to stop to consider whether I agreed: are the paintings I have encountered bleeding? In trying to answer, I found myself making my list of the five shows that made me think the most about the state of painting this year—its physicality, its lasting presence, and its bloodshed. — Erin Langner, Seattle Contributor

Sterling Ruby | SUNRISE SUNSET installation view, image courtesy of Hauser & Wirth.

Sterling Ruby / SUNRISE SUNSET
Hauser & Wirth

I must admit, when I first considered this idea of bleeding, my mind went straight to the literal—specifically, the rich, red tendrils congealed around Los Angeles artist Sterling Ruby’s The Cup, like the surface of a scab. Part of the artist’s multimedia show, SUNRISE SUNSET, at Hauser & Wirth in Chelsea this summer, the piece appeared to melt into a clumpy pulp at its base, but it was in no way fading out. The Cup, in a word, shouted—it shouted its materials, its existence, its plight. The surrounding works clashed against one another, emitting themes of history, refuse, newness and the everyday, through the likes of spray-painted smog horizons and oversized bronze dishes of detritus mounted on the walls like canvases. From here, painting’s existence looks like a comingled one, where the medium plays well with others, sometimes at the steering wheel and, other times, from the back seat.

Darren Waterston / Filthy Lucre and Cadence
MASS MoCA and Greg Kucera Gallery

Darren Waterston | Filthy Lucre, 2013-2014, Mixed media installation with sound, 12 x 30 x 20 ft. Photo credit: Amber Gray.

When New York painter Darren Waterston’s lush, impeccably smooth paintings came to Seattle, in Cadence, at Greg Kucera Gallery, I found myself even more intrigued by his Filthy Lucre, which was on view at the same time at MASS MoCA. Created in response to James McNeill Whistler’s Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room and the fraught patron-artist relationship surrounding its creation, Waterston’s piece spills into the installation realm that so many museum blockbusters have relied on to draw visitors, as of late. Filthy Lucre’s garish details drip from the ceilings, taking the form of stalactite-like lighting fixtures and a pool of gold that collects across the floor. While the work brings out the similarities in the artist-patron relationships during Whistler’s and Waterston’s respective eras, it also raises valid questions around the role spectacle plays in the museum-visitor relationship and the approaches painting finds itself taking to address this moment.

Klara Glosova / Life on the Sidelines
Bryan Ohno Gallery

Klara Glosova | Life on the Sidelines, IMG_8702.jpg, 2014, watercolor and ink on paper, 60” x 45”. Image courtesy of Bryan Ohno Gallery.

Back in Seattle, several exhibitions also stayed with me, for the ways they worked with more subtle, physical inquiries about where painting is going. The sprawling watercolors of Klara Glosova’s Life on the Sidelines, at Bryan Ohno Gallery, reconfigured the landscape paintings so beloved by artists of the Pacific Northwest. Keeping the meditative sensibility associated with this area of the country since the time of the Northwest Mystics, the artist floods her scenes with a highly contemporary sense of melancholy so earnest that we become quickly attached to the anonymous figures that fill her sidelines.

Robert Yoder / Dark Entries
Platform Gallery

Ralph Pugay
Seattle Art Museum

Although it has been almost one year since I encountered the paintings of Robert Yoder’s Dark Entries at Platform Gallery, the rough, rawness of their scarred surfaces still continue to haunt me, countering the demand for monumentality with the lingering resonance of a quieter place for painting. And, while Ralph Pugay’s show at the Seattle Art Museum was once of the last I saw in 2014, it was undoubtedly one of the most memorable. It leaves me with the sense that among painting’s ambitions for the future, it may wish to consider replacing some of the blood with laughter, especially the kind that comes from a more serious place, in the spirit of Pugay.

Robert Yoder | Teenage Donna (Hobby Lantern 1), 2013, oil and acrylic on cotton bandana, 18” x 17.5”. Image courtesy of Platform Gallery.

Ralph Pugay | All the Poor All in the Same Place, acrylic on canvas, 18"x24", 2012. Image courtesy of the artist.


Erin Langner is an arts writer and a program associate at Seattle Arts & Lectures. 

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