Heather Brown at Carter and Citizen & Scott Olson at Overduin and Kite
Preamble: It has been true for years, I am way over spectacle. Maybe you’re like me. I thought a lot of people felt this way but clearly not enough do because 2012 still looks a lot like 2007. Celebrity continues to be watered down. Like warm piss in the toilet bowl, it holds charm no more. The otherwise charming word Franco has come to signal the knee-buckling weakness formerly serious institutions have acquired for dull glitz. Everyone knows that playing the ratings game destroys integrity. Fashion is young and pretty, but I want art. I want something a little less monied to tickle my brain. I want some intentional engagement, wrestling with doubt. The fancier the art party, the more loathsome and reactionary, wasteful and unethical it comes off. Aren’t we supposed to be the party of difficult ideas and challenging truths, process over profit? Grand gestures are now always tied to money and donor names are written in stone, all-caps, in your face. The toxic stink of the $100,000 (groan) Mohn prize wafts through our little corner of the art world like a fart so putrid it makes my eyes water, almost like crying. Ok, enough of the bummer stuff; you get the idea. It’s summer and I’m not even depressed, nonetheless there are things to bemoan in our art world which set the context for my minor and all-too-familiar plea. The preamble may need even more stress than the amble that follows.
I want us to amble over to two painting shows that are rewardingly, polemically against spectacle. Heather Brown’s show of small, easy-going, colorful and pattern-driven abstract canvases at Carter & Citizen is called “Ruins,” begging the question to what wreckage are we witness. There are so many to choose from. Two diminutive pieces, each one square foot, extend the same title to simple and flat rectilinear boogie-woogie compositions of salmon pink, orange, red, leaf green, violet, tropical blue, pale and bright yellow. The vibe is craft casual. Another group of the same intimate size and passing under the shared name Design for Living, 2012, permutes variations on the theme of blocky, interlocking rows of disjointed segments. Design for Living no. 4 is probably the most affecting. The oil is dragged dryly across the surface in short fragmentary lines. The dominant somber tone of faded purple, blue-gray, and cool fog white is streaked with burnt orange, fleshy pink, minty sea foam, and rag paper off-white. The colors vibrate softly. The overlapping systems of lines tangle like chain link. This design for living is a fucked-up lattice of rhomboids and rectangles, a tweaked armature of irregular footholds. When figure and ground flip-flop, the pleasurable instability of looking channels the searching material labor of painting, which may allegorize aspects of living.
Scott Olson’s paintings at Overduin and Kite are much more refined and accomplished abstractions. They exude meticulous consideration and heightened intentionality. Beyond formal affinities with Constructivism and Paul Klee, among others, they convey an investment in labor, an understated yet ambitious commitment to strange and subtle surfaces that are the complex result of numerous additive and subtractive layers of glazes, masking, scraping, translucence, and opacity. Alternately flat and recessed, the depth accrued is an enchanting thing to fall or dive into. One pared-down panel, stripped of so many internal bits and pieces in deference to a particularly gorgeous spectrum of watery blues might as well have a diving board attached. Olson’s paintings on super matte, marble dust grounds place themselves in the mural tradition of frescoes by simulating the feel of both fresh and aged plaster walls. We look for affinities, things to feel close to. Hilary at the gallery found my favorite yet. Standing in front of one work with a smudgy, beige plaster kind of border zone in which the main composition is placed off-center, she tethered its abstraction to the stylized stained glass windows in every Jewish temple either of us had ever been in—a visual touchstone so untapped it took Olson in Ohio to alert us to it. The painting-in-a-painting framework that he uses throughout implies an open-ended expansiveness. Abstraction is rendered referential, concrete. Measuredly downscale in size, these paintings reach out into space in all directions, folding architecture inside the object and gesturing into the world in order to envelop the viewer in their exquisitely unspectacular possibilities.
(Image at top: Heather Brown, Design for Living no. 4, 2012, oil on canvas, 12 × 12 inches; Courtesy the artist and Carter & Citizen, Los Angeles.)