Like most press releases for painting shows, the latest from Mitchell-Innes & Nash has something to say about The State of Painting. While we’d assumed that realist painting is willfully ignorant of progress, it tells us, we now realize that painting is “just one of many ways to process an image.”
That’s a nice concept, but it often falls far short of what painting can do. Without additional meaning from the artist, simply “processing an image” doesn’t mean much– which flatly describes Mamie Tinkler’s watercolor “Still Life With Glasses, Three Ways.” A series of three watercolors depict kitschy 70s-style drinking glasses, zooming in progressively, so that the third image is mostly reflection. Similarly, Jeanette Mundt’s “Living Room (4 on 1)” and “Board Room” abstract mundane images of the titular spaces by doubling and quadrupling them. It’s a basic shift from recognizable imagery to out-of-context shapes, but the lesson stops there. It seems even more redundant, considering the fact that that’s a built-in feature of image reproduction; you can already view any image as both abstract and representational by separating it into a collection of brushstrokes, Ben-Day dots, or silkscreened layers.
A few of the more impactful works also communicate ideas, like Andrew Kuo’s “Girl, Flowers,” a sketchy portrait layered with a sketchy bouquet, layered with a symbolic white outline of a vase. Now raked apart, the stack of images feels like an overused deck of cards. Even better is his goofy Simpson-style “Tallboy,” in which we face the back of a cartoon basketball player in a Thinker pose, with black Bart spikes and a jersey labelled “Lin.” Lin contemplates a glaring basketball in Jeff Koons’s “One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank.” The ball’s eyeballs make one of its stripes look like a frown. Many things make this great: the optical frown, Lin’s inability to get his ball, and the modestly-painted relationship between Americana and blue-chip art, which Koons himself makes so un-modest.
The best spin on reality happens in Van Hanos’s “Lilly’s Gaze.” Photorealistic legs in black leggings recline on a couch, but the painting is turned so that the couch is vertical, and the sitter is at the top, cropped at her chest. A cat reclines sideways, so that its eyes are horizontal. It’s as though there is a correct orientation, and the cat’s it. The painting bends representation, but unlike most of the others, it suggests something else, too.