Vital Look at Modernism’s Wake

Greene Naftali presents stellar painting, much of it from women

“POST MoDERN,” a large group show of paintings at Greene Naftali Gallery, is the latest effort to address “modernism’s afterlife,” a topic that has become a pet curatorial conceit for the past few seasons.

Since all painting is fundamentally about the history of painting, it would be difficult for such an exhibition not to be implicitly about modernism. After all, it was the dominant art movement for the entire 20th century.

A more remarkable fact about “POST MoDERN” is that eight of the 11 painters featured are women, a possibility that modernism certainly never encouraged or even anticipated.

The exhibition presents some of the more vital, interesting and fashionable painting around and the show’s energy is generated from seeing these works in proximity to each other. Painting jokes abound.

Although tucked away in the back gallery, Mary Heilmann’s hilarious 1978 painting, “The Rosetta Stone II,” sets the tone. As Heilman states in the exhibition’s press release, red, yellow and blue are “remembered and quoted in the style of another time;” in this case, in the style of the exacting color taskmaster of all first-year art students, Josef Albers. Josh Smith’s five “Untitled (Palette Paintings)” also humorously mine the self-reflexive nature of life in the studio when one’s palette looks a whole lot better than the canvas on the wall.

The contemporary gamut of visceral, gestural painting is well represented. Jacqueline Humphries’ “Mary/Mary” and Charline von Heyl’s “Defenster 2” are two stunning examples of both the transcendent and earthly alchemical properties of paint itself. While Humphries works her magic optically with long strokes of cherry red that shimmer on a silvery blue ground, von Heyl’s mad, fingered swipes of shit-brown gloriously refuse to overcome their physical origins.

The happy breakdown of deterministic genres, such as figuration and abstraction, is also on display in strong works by Amy Sillman, Dana Schutz and Sophie von Hellermann. With much broader interests than merely the legacy of modernism, these painters each address the long history of painting, bringing to bear their own particular constellation of influence on their investigation of narrative.

If you’re interested in seeing some of the best practitioners of contemporary painting, “POST MoDERN” is your show. Don’t forget your Clement Greenberg.

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