Sunday, February 22, 2009

Carolee Schneemann at P.P.O.W

Carolee Schneemann Painting, What It Became at the P.P.O.W Gallery through March 28, 2009. The exhibition was curated by Maura Reilly with illustrated color catalog and essay.

Please note the P.P.O.W Gallery has moved to 511 W. 25th Street, 3rd Floor. The gallery is in the glass fronted gallery building, nearer 10th avenue than 11th.
"I'm a painter. I'm still a painter and I will die a painter. Everything that I have developed has to do with extending visual principles off the canvas." - Carolee Schneemann, 1993. [from the gallery press release]
Ms. Schneemann is a legendary performance artist but I had never seen her earlier paintings and assemblages which have been rarely exhibited. I was pleasantly surprised by her painted works. Spanning a period between 1957 to 1965, they are the work of an 'emerging artist' and need no apologies.

Ok, so I went into a time warp, these were paintings from over 40 years ago, but upon entering the gallery I was struck by the freshness and 'in your face' feeling of these works. Certainly if we look back into the period we can ascribe influences or associations, but this is one of the qualities found in the work of young artists. It is an historical lineage digging beck into the past, but illuminated by the light of its present cultural zeitgeist.

In the present, we lack that inner zeitgeist of 50 years ago, of "action painting" and all of the other temporal philosophies which shaped and informed work of that period, or any period for that matter. In the light of this, it is not surprising to see how Ms. Schneemann's artwork evolved from "action painting" to performance. Nascent in these early painted works is a 'devil may care' attitude, a gestural physicality leading towards dance and a taste of controlled chaos found in her performance settings.
The monumental Four Fur Cutting Boards 1963—the kinetic painting-construction in front of which the artist performed her famous photographic series, Eye Body (Thirty Six Transformative Actions)––is the centerpiece of the exhibition. [from the gallery press release]
One can see influences of Rauschenberg in this piece, maybe it's the umbrellas or just that he is the only marker from that period we remember, it was in the air I think. Never the less what fascinated me were the thousands of staple holes in the wood support, stuff from life dragged off the street into the studio, and nurtured to become a backdrop for a performance. 'Action' was a word to live by especially if you were male, Carolee turned it all inside out.

Maybe I am being too nostalgic, but in the years since these artworks were made the population of the US has doubled. The artworld has expanded beyond anything which anyone could have possibly envisioned in the mid-twentieth century. The "young artist" became an "emerging artist", extruded in endless numbers from the MFA mills born in the last twenty years.

Ms. Schneemann's paintings are human, they are tender, angry, sexy, painterly, reactionary, fun, funky, accomplished, damn they are just about everything you would want from an emerging artist today without that sense they were made for a "target market" In today's stressful economic times, Ms. Schneemann attitude towards her art, an in your face take this if you dare attitude, seems like a better model than "branding"

This is a terrific exhibition for the present moment in art.

It's not about the money, it's all about attitude.

Carolee Schneemann
Three Figures after Pontoromo 1957
Oil on canvas
46.5 x 31.5 inches

Carolee Schneemann
Quarry Transposed 1960
Mixed Media
57 x 34.75 x 4 inches

Carolee Schneemann
Tenebration 1961
Mixed Media
52.52 x 46 inche

Carolee Schneemann
Sphinx 1962
Mixed Media
50 x 28 x 4 inches

Carolee Schneemann
One Window is Clear- Notes to Lou Andreas Salome 1965
Mixed Media
77.5 x 48 x 3.5 inches

Carolee Schneemann
Gift Science 1965
Mixed Media
41.25 x 15.5 x 5 inche

Carolee Schneemann
Installation view
Meat Joy Collage, 1999 (?)

Evocative of Hieronymus Bosch the artwork Meat Joy Collage on the left above, is painted and collaged with photographic prints similar to the one below.

Carolee Schneemann
Meat Joy 1964
Gelatin silver print
23.75 x 20.25 inche

Photographs courtesy of the artist and the P.P.O.W Gallery. I would like to note that the actual paintings have an aged patina which the jpegs do not show.

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