Vivid: Female Currents in Painting

Schroeder Romero & Shredder, New York

Jenny Jaskey

Nicola Tyson, Bouquet, 2007; oil on linen; 38 x 30 inches; courtesy the artist and Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York

From Marina Abramović’s smash-hit solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art to Women Only at the American Folk Art Museum, New York saw a remarkable run of exhibitions by and about women artists throughout 2010. The trend continues into 2011, with painting and photography by women taking the stage in Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958–1968 at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum (through January 9), Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism at the Jewish Museum (through January 30) and Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography at MoMA (through April 4).

Chelsea gallery Schroeder Romero & Shredder joins the female fever with a sprawling group exhibition organized by the Houston-based independent curator Janet Phelps. Vivid: Female Currents in Painting is the first group show in the gallery’s new digs on West 26th Street and corrals every available inch of wall space with a dizzying array of styles and subject matter. Finding overlapping currents in this tumultuous sea of landscapes, still lifes and geometric abstractions is a challenge, and the best works suffer for lack of air. But there are gems to be found, including Nicola Tyson’s Bouquet (2007), an unassumingly luscious painting in which the artist’s characteristic sublimation of figure to ground yields the effect of the depicted blooming bud; vibrant patches of amaranthine peep out from behind dry washes of orange that at once foreground and obscure her subject, which ever so shyly begins to reveal itself.

Harriet Korman’s Untitled (2007) similarly unsettles figure-ground relationships with brightly colored shapes that interlock in oscillating combinations. A longtime devotee of pure abstraction, Korman presents a delightful example of her talent for uniting flat color and the awkwardness of a wavering line in a way that avoids becoming a static image. Unfortunately, Untitled is tucked in the smallish middle gallery and is somewhat mysteriously placed beside a suite of Laylah Ali’s gouache paintings; is the curatorial connection that both contain green grids? Carrie Moyer’s impressive Violet & Bone (2010) finds a more central spot, and its white amorphous but decidedly sexual figure floats illusionistically above glittery translucent glazes of violet and bright magenta. The surface is as seductive as its imagery, and Moyer achieves a depth to the picture plane that seems effortless, though deceivingly so.

Carrie Moyer, Violet & Bone, 2010; acrylic, glitter on canvas; 60 x 48 inches; courtesy the artist and CANADA, New York

Angela Dufresne, Thomas Cole Miner's Daughter, 2010; oil on canvas; 34 x 50 inches; courtesy the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery, New York

If anything unites this group of artists, it is a commitment to painting, as opposed to “painting beside itself,” to borrow a phrase from scholar-critic David Joselit [October 130, Fall 2009]. Unlike the increasingly popular, so-called transitive painting, which points to networks of production or distribution outside the picture plane, the artists in Vivid are committed to life within the stretcher. That is not to say that the paintings here don’t relate their aesthetic concerns to broader contexts. Art historical referents abound, and for being a show of female painting, the exhibition is chock-full of nods to the work of male predecessors: Angela Dufresne’s Thomas Cole Miner’s Daughter (2010) takes up the language of the Hudson River School. Carrie Moyer is indebted to Philip Taaffe, though her repertoire as of late ingests everything from the Woman of Willendorf to Elton John. And Sigrid Sandström’s Bruce (2010) owes something to the odd pairing of nineteenth-century trompe l’oeil painter John Haberle and Gerhard Richter.

It is worth noting that the exhibition comes with its own counterpoint. Schroeder Romero, a gallery that got its start in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a decade ago and is now in its third location, recently changed its name by teaming up with Shredder, a curatorial enterprise led by art dealer Don Joint. Shredder curates its own historically minded shows to “encourage a unique dialog between the past and present,” alongside Schroeder Romero’s contemporary program. This time around, the conversation came in the form of Pavers, a concurrent exhibition with works by women who laid the groundwork for the generation of artists represented in Vivid. Works by Lee Krasner, Louisa Matthíasdóttir and Louise Nevelson, among others, comprise a dense and somewhat kitschy exhibition design in the rear galleries, accessorized with Philippe Starck Louis Ghost chairs, Roman shades and wall sconces. Explicit connections between works in Vivid and Pavers are left for viewers to parse, and since both shows suffer from a lack of focus, I chose to reflect on a Joan Mitchell pastel and call it a day.

Jenny Jaskey is an independent curator and MA Candidate at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College.

This exhibition will be on view through January 22, 2011.

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