BY Christian Haye in Reviews | 06 SEP 96
Featured in
Issue 29

44th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting/ Screen

BY Christian Haye in Reviews | 06 SEP 96

The methodology of painting is a joke. I don't mean that to read quite as bitchy as it does. The joke has received a bad rap as a low art form when, in actuality, that is only one of its guises. Curation has a bad rap as an art form when, in reality, it is rarely that and more often something else. The recent penchant for curating seems to lean towards the no-brainer (survey show), the deadpan (cryptic 'style' shows) and the one-liner ('Painting Outside Painting' and 'Screen' to mention two of many). Curating in the po-mo era is not about the individual works per se but about the way one 'works' within a framework. If the framework is speculative enough this can be a rare and beautiful thing because the work will be able to present itself on several levels. If the framework is narrow the work shrinks like a scared erection.

Before viewing the '44th Biennial Exhibition...', I was very excited. With Fred Tomaselli, Sam Gilliam, Lauren Szold and Carter Potter, who wouldn't get a stiffie? In common with many recent affairs with 'spaces', I lost it right after entering. To the left, across from the information desk, I stared at a Szold spill which I, unlike many people, am always fascinated by. Flour, water, dye, icing and other viscously fun materials ooze everywhere in a primordial sort of way. Entering the gallery at the same time were several Vermeer junkies who couldn't get into the over-packed show across town, despite having waited since 7 o'clock that morning. Upon viewing the Szold piece, they turned around and asked the information attendant if there was 'any normal painting being exhibited here?' After they had been hustled towards the permanent collection, I moved on.

Sam Gilliam's billowing acrylic on tobacco linen was draped (literally) from the ceiling like a funky dream bedroom in a Prince video. Upstairs, the exhibition proper began. I waltzed into the first room and saw a pair of Tomaselli's infamous pot leaf abstractions. Uh-oh. I get the joke: 'Painting Outside Painting'. Deflation. Carter Potter's film still paintings, Peter Hopkins' fluids and cosmetics on canvas, Jessica Stockholder's anything goes; with 26 artists and over 50 pieces of work, the curator, Terry Sultan, has performed the almost impossible task of making 26 artists and over 50 pieces of work appear as a run-on sentence.

Back home, curator and art bon-vivant Joshua Decter has crammed nothing but good stuff into the Friedrich Petzel Gallery. Richard Artschwager, Nicole Eisenman, more Peter Hopkins, Glen Ligon, Sigmar Polke, Sue Williams. You name it they got it. All join forces to elevate television to high art or bring some much needed 'low' qualities to visual art. There is not one bad piece in the show; Blue Chip solamente. In the gallery there is a monitor playing a video of the works in the show inter-cut with tantalising television images. Another telly is tuned into itself. A handy Murdoch-approved TV guide sits next to a lone folding chair. There is also a web site! Get it? Painting as one visual medium in many - television as a narrative about visual information and aesthetics. In this company, Decter's ratings are way down.