Javier Peres to Show at Grimmuseum

by Paddy Johnson on January 5, 2012 · 14 comments Opinion

Javier Peres, "Sunset Boulevard, 1970-1993", 2011

Famed art dealer Javier Peres – of Peres Projects – will cast his net a little wider in 2012, now venturing into the world of exhibiting art makers. Slated to open January 12th at Grimmuseum in Berlin, Peres’s work focus on the theme of collective and personal memory; in this case, realist paintings of River Phoenix. The 23-year-old Hollywood heartthrob died of a drug overdose in 1993.

According to the press release Peres sees Phoenix as “a martyr of his day and place”, an assertion that is never explained past observing that publicity photos showed him confident in some poses and vulnerable in others. There will be a concurrent screening of “My Own Private River”, the James Franco re-edit of Gus Van Sant’s unsentimental 1991 drama with a score by Michael Stipe.

Let me be the first to offer some advanced skepticism; based on the press release and image alone, one comes away with the impression that the show will reflect more cultural stereotypes than it mines. The death of River Phoenix may not mean much to the 20-somethings in my office, but to Generation X-ers like myself and Peres, the actor’s death was a spectacle of wasted talent and loss: the Heath Ledger of our time. As such, the subject matter itself is a cliche attached to the generation. Art by Gen Xers about River Phoenix has the same problems as dudes making art about trucks and guns and girls making art about barbies; even when executed well, it’s almost impossible to do more than act out a stereotype.


Javier Peres January 5, 2012 at 6:14 pm

i love it when people that dont know what they are talking about, and should know to ask questions, talk before asking those questions…but then again, who really expects more than that from you? Not me, JP

Bill Donovan January 6, 2012 at 12:56 am

I think the art looks great, and I imagine someone like Javier Peres knows what he’s attempting to do – so why the skepticism?  It comes off as petty.

Paddy Johnson January 6, 2012 at 12:24 pm

I’m not sure what “looks great” or “someone like Javier Peres” are supposed to mean. The former offers no support for the assertion, and the latter seems to suggest that we should assume there is substance behind the work because Peres has credentials as an art dealer. I’m not sure if that’s what’s being said, but it reads that way. 

Anyway, there was a version of this post that said a lot less, but when we discussed the editorial direction in the office, we decided that without some opinion the piece would be meaningless. It’s a critic’s job to be skeptical. That’s what we do.

greg. January 6, 2012 at 2:10 pm

The critic’s job is to offer informed critique and provoke the reader to form an own opinion, not to blurt out unfounded, or “advanced” as the post calls it, “skepticism”.

To go see the show, describe it, and then arrive at an opinion based on the “visual evidence” gathered as well as on previous knowledge, would have been enough to write a worthwhile blog-post, but this way it’s either gossip (cause, you know, he’s famous and all) or pure spite.

Bad or not, famous or not, every artist whose work you’ll take a dump on deserves that you at least look at in its natural habitat (an exhibition, usually) before you start unbuttoning. I don’t think preparation for an article necessarily has to include your talking to Javier Peres and personally asking him question (that could hurt, even) but an engagement with the actual topic of discussion – the exhibition – does seem necessary.


Paddy Johnson January 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Gossip occurs when one details on topics that are not confirmed to be true. I haven’t spoken about the quality of the paint handling or the install or anything like that — the show hasn’t opened yet — but I can be critical of the conceit. 

Seeing as how the press release has dedicated approximately 200 words to describing what this is, I’d say the conceit is exactly what they want us to focus on. Certainly, it’s what this post responds to. 

So let’s try and stay on topic. River Phoenix: I think it’s going to be really had to say something new about memory simply by pulling together a bunch of paintings drawn from press photos in which the actor’s either vulnerable or confident. In another series he depicts “Phoenix in the same manner, changing only the background image and colours”.  Same problem. Even if the paintings are amazing, I don’t see how the conceit, as described, isn’t weak. 


Bill Donovan January 9, 2012 at 5:55 am

Why should we single out Javier Peres as someone more deserving of careful consideration?  The short answer is that he, through his work as a gallerist, brought some of the most challenging artists to prominence over the past 8 or 9 years.  Based on his history as a curator he could probably do anything and my instinct would be to take it seriously, and while that is a provocative way to put it, it isn’t a joke.  Because if you’re familiar with the work of Eddie Martinez, Mark Flood, Terrence Koh, Dan Attoe, and Bruce LaBruce, you know that Peres chooses difficult artists, who sometimes make unpleasant work, but who, each in their own way, are articulating something thoughtful about the human condition and also art.  Therefore, when Peres chooses to paint River Phoenix portraits I imagine he is revealing something about his own sexuality, desire, and the fungibility of  identity.  I thought your review lacked empathy for the artist, and it felt a little mean spirited.  Mean in the sense of average, average spirited.

Paddy Johnson January 9, 2012 at 10:19 am

It’s true, most of those artists you named consistently make good work, but the company one keeps isn’t the criteria I use to evaluate the merit of a working concept. Yes, he may be revealing something about his own sexuality/desire and identity, but I think bringing out those concepts, with this material and approach, is going to be difficult. I don’t feel like pointing that out is particularly mean spirited or average spirited (I’m not sure what that means). If I were to say I think this will be good because I like the artists in the Peres stable, I would have a different stream of people here, complaining that I was taking at easy on the conceit. 

Bill Donovan January 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm

A meta-critique of your approach regarding your first impressions of this work: Speaking from personal experience, when I like an artist’s work, at first it is unclear to me why.  Once I set into analyze that initial attraction I usually learn things about myself that were hidden from me.  Sometimes after a period of time that artist, who made the work I liked, changes their body of work entirely, and I am left with a feeling of confusion and dislike towards the new work.  However, this is the moment where I have found that disregarding my impulse to ignore the work and take it seriously is the most rewarding – exactly at the moment where I do not understand the work.  Therefore, when your critique is centered around the sentence “I think bringing out those concepts, with this material and approach, is going to be difficult.”  I see someone who doesn’t want to look, understand, explore, etc…  Basically someone who is closed to the work, that’s what I meant by average.  I feel that your critique (more like a tepid, off-handed dismissal) of the work seemed closed off.  This is what I meant by petty, average, and mean spirited; precisely at the moment when it would pay to open up and at least offer TWO readings of the work, you closed down and tried to “be a critic.”

Veganfagcity January 6, 2012 at 4:13 am

Makes me want to see the show even more 🙂

MR January 6, 2012 at 7:13 am

Why does his left ring finger look like it is deflating at the base? Were River Phoenix’s hands inflatable? 

Paddy Johnson January 6, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Oh come on Javier. Your press release isn’t supposed to inspire questions, it exists to answer them. This is a conversation. You should participate. Tell me why I’m wrong. 

Will Brand January 6, 2012 at 2:38 pm

So, which of the things Paddy said doesn’t she know about? Keep in mind, in answering, that she said nothing about the brushwork, color, size, or installation of the paintings; after all, she hasn’t seen them, and she clearly made no attempt to hide that or comment on what she didn’t know.

So I’ll recap for you, and you can stop me when you like:

1. You are making paintings about River Phoenix.

2. River Phoenix has a cultural position to Gen X-ers akin to that of Heath Ledger for millenials.

3. The symbol of River Phoenix’s death as a “spectacle of wasted talent and loss” is a cliche.

4. It is difficult to make artwork from cliched subject matter.

Which of those statements in untrue? Which of those statements does Paddy not know about? You willingly chose a subject whose meaning resonates very strongly with a certain generation. You willingly chose a subject the meaning of which is singular and the sign of which is closed – postmortem PR squads will do that. You willingly chose a subject wherein even if you were to attempt to reopen that myth, you would have to contend with the fact that that myth is itself one of cliched complexity; adding a dimension to Joaquin Phoenix or changing how we look at Joaquin Phoenix is difficult, because the way we look at Joaquin Phoenix is by going “whoa, that dude had a lot of dimensions.”

If you understood this before starting this series – and I should hope you did – then you might have prepared an actual defense instead of some bullshit sniping; in fact, I imagine that defense would be pretty integral to the work. If you didn’t understand this, you shouldn’t have chosen this topic. 

GiovanniGF January 12, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Paintings of photographs! Yay! 

Paddy Johnson January 9, 2012 at 5:25 pm

I’d say this debate suffers from that same lack of charitability I’m being accused of. Only one read has been offered from you: That because this post does not contain more than one position, than it is petty and mean-spirited. That’s a valid interpretation, but it wasn’t one that was meant to be taken from this post, an acknowledgement that’s strangely no where to be found in your comments. 

To be clear, the point was not that viewers including myself should not give it a chance, but rather to outline what I think will be some steep hurdles to get over.  I think we both agree that this will be the case, though you obviously are much more optimistic about it than I am. The conceit isn’t particularly complex and I really don’t think the art world needs to advocate for greater open-ness to bad ideas — we have enough of them already.   That said, I can see that it might have been better to include some of your optimism in the post itself, and would add Kaye Donachie to the others you mentioned as relevant, since she’s a representational figurative painter represented by the gallery who works directly with memory and nostalgia. I would have still used that optimism to outline my own position — that hasn’t moved much — but yeah, you’ve contributed valuable information to the conversation. 

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