The second my shoes hit the white wall-to-wall carpeting that blanketed the galleries, I was struck by how radically this simple addition—actually, as it turned out, an artwork by Rudolf Stingel—shifted both the acoustics and the register of the space. With the hushed voices and dampened footsteps, I felt like I’d wandered by mistake into a showroom whose wares I obviously couldn't afford.
Of course, this feeling of displacement might've had something to do with the fact that I was oscillating between a soft-spoken, microphone-wielding Jeffrey Deitch and the anonymous MOCA employee charged with carting around the speaker that broadcast his voice to the four or five dozen people who turned up one Thursday for his guided tour of The Painting Factory. The Warhols, he explained, were mainly from the period when, post-Solanas, the iconic enigma withdrew into the business of “bringing home the bacon,” all the while building on the paradox of making mis-registered silkscreens a signature style through new ways of branding markers of his absence with his own name.
Julie Mehretu, Black City, 2007; Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.
Pitted on opposite walls in the first room, the artist's diamond-dust shadow paintings and oversized camouflage canvas set the stage for what was to come. This was a show focused less on abstraction in the strict sense than as a kind of formal effect, at times achieved through the repetition of an image, as in Rudolf Stingel's untitled chain-link fence paintings from 2008, or used to suggest the chaos of a modern-day urban environment, as in Mark Bradford and Julie Mehretu's contributions.
Other moments offered a playful take on the factory model of artistic production. Christopher Wool's untitled paintings, for instance, centered on inky blots suggesting gestural expressiveness, yet these were overlaid with Ben-Day dots, abrupt color changes, and split seams pressing outward at right angles from the canvases' centers, seemingly too precise to have been rendered by a human hand.
The most Warholian aspect of the show, however, was the monotony that set in after room after room of giant, blockbuster-sized paintings, leveling the strengths of individual works via a curatorial over-reliance on scale to communicate effect. But what was the overall effect, anyhow? Standing a few feet apart from Jeffrey Deitch, it was hard not to reflect on how drastically the world he moves in differs from anything I and the gathered crowd knew, an impression cemented at the moment when, standing in front of silvery chain-link canvases each worth more than a house, he summarized Rudolf Stingel's career trajectory in terms of his slow but finally lavish rise to market success.
Urs Fischer, Untitled, 2006, aluminum panel, gesso, acrylic paint, silicone, screws; © Urs Fischer, courtesy of the artist, photo by Mats Nordman.
Particularly these paintings could be a synecdoche for the brunt of the monumentally imposing works that peopled The Painting Factory, articulating a point at which the inaccessibility of the upper echelons of contemporary capitalism regurgitates itself as the spectacle of our exclusion. There was little question, after all, of which side of the fence we were facing. Even if our presence in that space meant we were already at least artists, leaving the footsteps that made a painting out of Stingel's rug, it was only in service of a work that's likely now en route to the landfill, driving home the transience of our access to the privileged sphere of the art on the walls.
Don’t get me wrong, though—it was a morbid thrill. Passing through the exhibition, I felt myself in the shadow cast by the death of the silver Factory, moving through the wake of the dark turn in Warhol's art when the social relations that had once focalized his practice were eclipsed by the increasingly self-referential production of value.
(Image on top: Installation view of The Painting Factory: Abstraction After Warhol, at MOCA Grand Avenue; Photo by Brian Forrest)