The Many Faces of Abstraction

Nate Ethier: paintings

The Many Faces of Abstraction

by Patrick Neal on July 9, 2013

Since painters of any stripe, be it abstract or figurative, no longer work around master narratives, trying to tackle one big issue, it’s common to see group shows of abstract painting arranged around particular interests or strategies a select group of artists may share.

A while ago I visited the exhibit Untitled (Painting) at Luhring Augustine and found myself mulling over the works on display ever since. That show which featured painters such as Daan van GoldenTauba Auerbach, and Wade Guyton accentuated conceptual approaches to abstract painting. The paintings tended to be taken in with a quick read and relied on external sources; mechanical processes or conceptual references for their meanings to fall into place.

In the past few years, we have also been hearing a lot on the subject of the so-called “New Casualists” or “Provisional Painters.” Artists — some of whom were included in Untitled (Painting) — who make tentative works, often deliberately shoddy, that belie a discomfort with fixed rules and formal ideologies. Their sensibilities, in tune with an era in art where “anything goes” could speak to the contingent nature of painting today.

Recently, at Storefront Bushwick, the group show Phaedo opened. Taking its title from Plato’s dialogue on the soul’s immortality, the exhibit “presents the practice of abstraction as a vehicle for the exploration of a world that exists apart from the physical one we inhabit.” This is a nice idea that, dare I say, reaches for the transcendent. As opposed to the tentative, the work in Phaedo is rigorously grounded and owes something to the abstract painting examined in the National Academy Museum’s High Times Hard Times, an important show that focused on the transitional work of painters from 1967 through 1975. Back then, abstract painting investigations were still rooted in aesthetic considerations coming on the heels of high modernism. If much contemporary abstract painting has a “hands off” mentality, then the work in Phaedo is very much “hands on” even when it is minimal or slight. With several paintings in the show, the emphasis is less on building up to a terminal point as it is about putting together the right combination of elements to achieve balance.

Read the rest of the article on the Hyperallergic website

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