Prefab Paintings: William Powhida’s Unretrospective

“ANYTHING can be ’editioned.’ Repetition is your friend.” This is one of the rules in William Powhida’s The Rules, which itself an edition of sorts. Referred to by the artist as a “republication,” The Rules is an oil painting that was made by an employee of painting village in Shenzhen, China, based on a JPEG image depicting the Brooklyn artist’s text-based drawing of the same title. This republication is available in three sizes and can be purchased through the artist’s website, for the duration of his show at Platform Gallery, Unretrospective, along with any JPEG that can be found on the site.  In effect, Powhida has created a space where anything really can be editioned, and repetition is your—or at least your wallet’s—friend.— Erin Langner, Seattle contributor

William Powhida | WHAT CAN THE Art World TEACH YOU?, 2014 (republication)
oil on canvas. Image courtesy of Platform Gallery.

William Powhida | Installation shot of a 30 x 22 inch republication in Unretrospective. Image courtesy of Platform Gallery.

Unretrospective is a matter of the wallet not only in that the outsourced paintings’ prices are significantly less than the amounts Powhida’s drawings typically command ($350-$1000, depending on the republications’ size, as opposed to upwards of $5000 for the artist’s original works), but also in in terms of their written commentaries.  Continuing the literal “art criticisms” he has been building into a distinct visual language for over a decade—including his and Jade Townsend’s widely-discussed rendering of the Art Basel Miami Beach fair as a caricature set in Hooverville, in 2009—Unretrospective brings back the artist’s familiar, snark-ridden insights that resonate as inner, art-world monologues many think but few say aloud: “The originality and complexity of transgression are often triumphed by the banal, familiar, repetition of tradition;” “Ten years or ten minutes of work can sell for a million;” “Once you do sellout, make the same thing until the market collapses. Think ‘reiteration’ and ‘variation.’ THAT HELPS!”

William Powhida | Auction Proposal, 2014 (republication), oil on canvas. Image courtesy of Platform Gallery.

William Powhida | The Formula, 2014, graphite and colored pencil on paper, 78 x 59 in. Image courtesy of Platform Gallery.

The result is a retrospective comprised of new art instead of old, created by people other than the artist. The works of Unretrospective refuse to be paintings by subverting the attributes we typically use to define the medium—originality, image-driven content, creation by the artist’s hand—other than the presence of paint itself, contorting its collection of unstretched canvases into an active, confrontational gesture. While their words can be read with too much seriousness, or with too much humor, the gesture speaks for itself, blaring loudly against the status quo with lists of reasons to question the factory-made values we have come to expect.

William Powhida | Blue Period2014 (republication), oil on canvas. Image courtesy of Platform Gallery.

William Powhida | Possible MEAN(ING)S, 2014 (republication), oil on canvas. Image courtesy of Platform Gallery.


Unretrospective is on view at Platform Gallery in Seattle, WA through June 7. William Powhida lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.  He received his MFA in painting from Hunter College and his BFA in painting from Syracuse University. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including shows in New York, San Francisco, London, Madrid, and Ghent.

Erin Langner is a writer and museum professional based in Seattle, WA.


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