Ken Johnson has poured hot water on himself—yet again—thanks to his short review of Michelle Grabner’s exhibition at James Cohan Gallery. Her flaw? She, and her work, is too domestic to a point of being “unexamined.”
Grabner’s exhibition includes paper weavings, abstract paintings referencing digital aesthetics, and a mixed- media installation including garbage can lids, a family portrait, and wide base plinth. It’s not entirely domestic, so it’s hard to pull that idea out of the exhibition as a whole; Johnson creates that homegrown portrait by pulling from a documentary video included in the exhibition, “A Few Minutes With…Michelle Grabner,” by David Robbins. Here’s Johnson’s description of Grabner in the video:
We see Ms. Grabner picking vegetables from her backyard garden and making a pie in her beautiful kitchen. In her lovely studio in a small house, and also in her backyard, she makes art by weaving strips of colored paper in and out of parallel cuts she’s made in sheets of white paper. She explains that she started doing these “paper weavings” after her son came home with one he’d made in kindergarten, 20 years ago.
While this may be true, in the video, she also mentions finding inspiration for her paper weavings in math and philosophy. These weavings relate to a “fractal practice without end.”
All Grabner’s comments—from an emphasis on the simple beginnings of this work to her interest in systems— are valid, and important to understanding the larger picture here. But, along with the paintings, they were omitted entirely. They just don’t fit in with Johnson’s overarching narrative that portrays the 2014 Whitney Biennial curator as a “soccer mom,” whose “bland art” would be helped out with a dose of satire.
How? Why is satire a solution to bland art? Why is art that evokes family life boring? Artists, men and women alike, have every right to make work that doesn’t abide by some bad-boy-postmodern-ironic stance. Authenticity is valid as a mode of belief. Grabner is not alone in this distinction—artists from Allan Kaprow to Sheila Hicks have created art that strives for a core belief in an art life that relates to the rest of life. Frankly, we deserve an art world that makes room for more than Johnson’s narrow vision.