In his now oft-quoted essay, “Art and Objecthood,” published in Artforum, June, 1967, Michael Fried terms “literalist” what we now refer to as Minimalist. Fried advocates inscrutable art that defeats or at least suspends its own objecthood. Fried allies himself with Jules Olitski’s elusive sprays, Tony Smith’s thrusting overwhelm and Anthony Caro’s cantilevered wholly abstracted planes, but feels deeply dismayed by Donald Judd and Robert Morris. As Fried outlines it, Judd and Morris stand against Modernist painting because it is too much picture, not enough object, Judd and Morris stand for single, simple, whole shapes, muted color, and order. Yet, to Fried, this work feels hollow, rushed, malnourished, degenerate even. (He’s angry.) Fried experiences Judd’s and Morris’ sculpture (and writing) as nagging obvious, dry demonstration that does nothing to embrace the wonders and potential of painting and sculpture as it wriggles through its own gaps.
Maya Lujan, Mimosa, mixed media, 30 x 36in.
At Jancar Gallery, where she also curates, the artist Maya Lujan returns to a conversation with Michael Fried, gold astronaut space blanket under her arm and breezier, more textured than Lynda Benglis pours stuck back onto painting panels and drifting into the seemingly irreconcilable expanses between Fried and Minimalism. Bright, sincere, mysterious abstractions stop just short of referencing a lunar landing, the back of a head, or a window drape; they have Pop titles like Mimosa, (in part, no doubt, because of the painting’s champagne and orange juice color, in part perhaps to consider the crusty hangover landscape suggested by the breakfast drink usually drunk way past daybreak, all works 2010). Car Wash has flaps, gold flaps you can pull back to reveal what might be a rainbow in a parking lot oil puddle, and Manifold, that’s a funny and irreverent title for an off-white, reference-to-male-artist-rich, revolving diamond painting with lots of folds, un-crumpling.
Maya Lujan, Manifold, 2010
Lujan’s modestly-sized sculptural painting, through a determined embrace of many possibilities, probes at openings within abstraction in the interest of a shoulder and-stocking sexiness reminiscent of Toulouse-Lautrec’s Moulin Rouge posters, and material concerns located between intellectual evaluation of the form, and the hypnotic, between endless variation and the process and performance of painting off the rectangle and sometimes without a brush, paint ripped up and replaced on a contrasting surface. These paintings are objects, healthily skeptical of painting. The actual surface of the painting panel is less there, than it is covered up with draping, a hook to hang the clothes on. These paintings revel and reward with a bunched goop of noodling orange-becoming-red covered in a black coat here, gooey marble there (a flick of there really), then a canvas-textured clump, or a surprise hard line between two slight variations of grey. You have the feeling that these tactile slappy tongue-drape-flaps might re-arrange themselves. You’d hear: ffffffpt! fffffffffpt! slllpt. kerrript! Overlap, under weave, some liquid, new painting!
Maya Lujan, The Gap, 2010, mixed media, 98 x 46 in.
Imagine Lujan’s studio. What are the small, uncommon, not precious, abstract lay about things at the edge of paint trays and bookshelves, stuck in the frame of a mirror, inconsequential consequential small gifts pulled back from the trash? There could be an unopened bag of terry cloth bar towels--all folded inside the plastic to show the dyed, thin green band down the center. There could be, flecked with yellow-orange spray paint, Manet’s Monet Working in the Boat, 1874, torn into puzzle pieces and reconfigured with snatches of menu corners. On a door, a xerox of a page from an interview with abstract expressionist Grace Hartigan... a pure black feather in a cracked, gravely gray earthenware bowl, and white feathers pierced by another nail and stacked like a pile of books, bigger ones on the bottom, this on a scrap of masonite by the door. Lujan might have circled the following in the Hartigan interview, from the 1995 book, Art Talk: Conversation with Fifteen Women Artists. The writing on the rest of the page would be scribbled out in pencil:
Maya Lujan, Foil, mixed media, 30 x 36
“My studio in NY was on the Lower East side. It was two blocks away from Grand Street where there is one bridal shop after another. I am very interested in masks and charades. It can be women or it can be something else —the face the world puts on to sell itself to the world. I have always been interested in empty ritual. I thought of the bridal thing as a court scene like Goya and Velasquez and I posed the bridal party in that same way. I had a photographer friend take pictures and I bought a bridal gown at a thrift shop and hung it in the studio. Every morning I would go out and stare at the windows and then come in and paint. The empty ritual of the court, all the trappings, the gowns, the lace, and those strange mad stares that the king, the queen, and the princesses have on their faces—those awful blank looks, like...”
Take an extra moment with the title piece of Lujan’s show, “The Gap.” Look like you are looking at an aerial view of a milk-paved bridge, an old towel thrown over a peeling chair by the lake... we will air dry after skinny dipping, but then, all that, towels and swimming’s really just a pile of allusions. Deft sculptural painting and austere minimalist sculptural element are butted up against each other. Lujan’s gap is a generous and inclusive space, hardy, and although alluding to breeziness, a tense, earthbound muscle.
- Marcus Civin
Maya Lujan, "The Gap," installation view.
Top image: Maya Lujan, Carwash, 2010, mixed media, 24x24,
All images courtesy of the artist and Jancar Gallery.