76 Grand Street
Conceptual Figures, an exhibition of new conceptually-based figurative painting, opened on September 4th at Deitch Projects. The twelve artists in the exhibition fused two seemingly contradictory approaches to art, Conceptualism and Illusionism. Painting was approached as an intellectual construct rather than as a visual impression of a live model. This did not mean that the resulting images were the product of rational thought. The current strand of Conceptualism reached back through the pre-rational mind, becoming almost metaphysical.
Conceptual figuration built on the innovations of Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray. It represented a break with the impressionistic and expressionist traditions of modern figuration. The emerging generation of painters featured in this exhibition embraced the innovations of Karen Kilimnik, John Currin, and Glenn Brown, pushing figuration further toward the uncanny. Their realism extended their vision into the unreal. Previous generations of figurative painters explored the position of painting after photography. This generation refined the position of painting after Photoshop.
All of the artists in the exhibition, with the exception of Anders Oinonen, who lived in Canada, worked in New York. Most of them were recent graduates of New York area art schools. Several of the artists participated in the Conceptual Figuration seminar taught by Kurt Kauper at Yale. Kauper, whose work was also included in this exhibition, had been a leader in articulating a new conceptual approach to figurative painting.
Colleen Asper saw painting as a history of suggestions for how presentation and meaning, form and content should intersect, using representation to point always to its status as a construct. Alison Blickle painted her own doppelganger protagonist, stretched out and bulging, to explore imaginary worlds of post-hippie spirituality. Ain Cocke’s precise and adoring graphite lines evoked a conceptual homoeroticism.
For Caleb Considine, the human figure in artistic representation, as in physical reality, was problematic and required special care and maintenance. Play, affection, and abuse got mixed up in the effort to fit the body into the confines of a rectangular picture plane.
Sophia Dixon’s conceptual figures inhabited a liminal world that included elements of the supernatural. Her figures seemed to be taking part in an erotic game. Micah Ganske’s sun bleached, luminous figures invited narratival speculation, catching the viewer off-guard in order to cast them as the final character in the plot.
Aaron Gilbert’s portraits of himself and his family created a gutted world through hyperrealization, where simplified bodies carried complex emotional gravity. Evan Gruzis’ deceptively photographic ink paintings demonstrated that absurdity and spirituality were not mutually exclusive. Ridley Howard focused on the way a painting’s construction intersected with the expression of thought. Kurt Kauper’s uncanny, old master-like renderings of contemporary subjects served to heighten one’s perception of the world we live in.
Anders Oinonen saw the face as an arrangement of just so many slabs of color, and used illusionistic shadow effects and visual puns to play with the face as fantasy landscape. Colette Robbins dealt with the remnants of the figure grouped in absurd ways; in this exhibition, she depicted severed legs rolled in a carpet.
Conceptual Figures was Jeffrey Deitch’s fourth thematic exhibition that tried to articulate approaches to conceptual figuration. The first project, Lives, presented in 1975, featured artists like Vito Acconci and Hannah Wilke, who used elements of their own life as an art medium. Post Human, in 1982, focused on a generation of artists including Jeff Koons, Charles Ray, and Paul McCarthy whose conceptual approach to figuration manifested itself primarily in sculpture. Form Follows Fiction in 2001 articulated the deliberate confusion between reality and fantasy in the work of artists like John Currin, Chris Ofili, and Takashi Murakami.
A panel discussion on Conceptual Figuration, organized by Ad Hoc Vox and moderated by Colleen Asper, took place in the gallery on Tuesday, September 9 at 7:00 PM.
March 8 - 11, 2018
We will present a special solo project by the artist JR.
Image: JR, Migrants, Walking New York City, 2015
April - May 2018
18 Wooster Street
76 Grand Street
New York, NY 10013
Monday – Friday
10 AM – 6 PM
Tuesday – Saturday
Noon – 6 PM
The gallery reopens with People in April 2018.
+1 (212) 343-7300
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