According to most sources, Ellen Altfest’s career is about to take off. Yesterday Bellwether sent AFC a press release detailing the accolades she received from no less than five different news sources. Let me sum up the press: The New York Times calls the show “startlingly fresh”, Time Out magazine says Altfest’s work is “alluringly complex”, and Absolute Magazine reports her paintings to be “Unsentimental and mysterious”. Wow. These are strong words for laborious studies of still lifes. This artist has not reinvented the wheel. She’s made a series of very boring representational paintings that exhibit poor attention to surface and fail to bring any depth to the subject matter depicted. While there is some validity to the Roberta Smith claim that her paintings brings to mind the work of Vija Celmins, Lucian Freud and Andrew Wythe, they are a pale immitation at best.
So why are we reading about how great these paintings are? To answer this question, let’s begin by imagining this same show at a reputable, but stodgy gallery like George Adams Gallery. Not so interesting when it’s not in hip gallery like Bellwether is it? In fact, in this environment all the talk about the dark mystery of this work would disappear – probably because it was never there in the first place.