Patrick Brennan reviews the recent exhibition The Old Becomes The New: New York Contemporary Native American Art Movement And The New York School at Wilmer Jennings Gallery at Kenkeleba, New York.
Brennan writes: "There are lateral and reciprocal relations between the New York School and these contemporary Native artists. American artists of comparatively recent European origin, each seeking a language for one’s own voice and experience, had to listen for the pulses of their Turtle Island home. Many, as were Will Barnet, the Indian space painters, Pollock, Gottlieb and Rothko, responsive to the homologies between their evolving abstract and iconographic syntaxes and the precedents already long applied by Native artists ... G. Peter Jemison takes advantage of visual art’s capacity to collapse multiple associations within an image in a way the linearity of language can barely deliver. To the left is what looks like concentric tree rings in blue river water lined around an almost blood red silhouette map of the island. To the right seems an English green, eerily empty and disembodied, where a rabbit pauses in the foreground within clear view of a perambulating wolf off a ways to the back. Directly behind the wolf, as if seen from New Jersey, rises the old World Trade Center. Predation regards live fur through business as usual while the painting still remembers yet another way."
Brody remarks that Wheeler "always had fans –– the work’s sheer persistent quality keeps it alive. As the wheel of poetic injustice turns, Wheeler now begins to seem, to many contemporary artists, more directly relevant than the canonical New York School artists. Art history pinches back on itself all the time –– particularly American art history, in which, for example, the dogged conservatism of Albert Pinkham Ryder, Charles Burchfield, or Edward Hopper becomes avant-garde in retrospect."
Brody continues, noting that "[Wheeler] packs signs into a resolute, atomic-age aesthetic crush, then works the variables of color and linear hierarchy into critical mass. A plurality of contemporary painters have used a similar strategy, for example Pearson, Burckhardt, and Murray; they get to abstraction by submitting found objects, or found fragments of style, to enormous pressure. This additive, sign-saturated version of abstraction, not invented by Wheeler but pushed to a limit case by him, allows many contemporary painters to manifest, like Wheeler, a quality of true belief in painting, above and beyond artistic ideology. Yes, we respond to Wheeler because he is a believer, and more than that –– something close to a prophet."
Painter Will Barnet died Tuesday at the age of 101. In the New York Times obituary, Ken Johnson writes "In the prints and paintings that he produced from the mid-1960s on, Mr. Barnet ranged between a simplified form of realism and a poetic, visionary symbolism."
In 2011, the Times' Hilarie M. Sheets noted that Barnet who "taught artists including Cy Twombly, Tom Wesselmann, Eva Hesse, James Rosenquist, Mark Rothko and Donald Judd... always felt his figurative and abstract painting shared a unity in terms of structure and taking liberties with form." In a 2009 interview he told Pamela Koob: "My relationship with the art world was always tied up with history. What I was doing related to the past, but it was fresh in the sense that I had reinterpreted ideas in a more contemporary sense…. I wasn’t worried about what was going on in the art world; I was worried about getting a good painting. in many ways I was against the grain. I’m sorry to say it, I hate to do it — I would love to be part of everything, but that is what happens."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.