"Anne Neely: Dwelling on Painting" by John A. Tyson

Added on by Shona Masarin.

This essay was produced in conjunction with the exhibition Anne Neely: Hidden in Plain Sight, curated by Sarah Sze, on view at CUE Art Foundation, November 2 - December 16, 2017. This text is included in the free exhibition catalogue available at CUE.

                                              The Scream, 2017. Oil on linen, 14 x 11 inches.

                                              The Scream, 2017. Oil on linen, 14 x 11 inches.

Anne Neely’s art provides ways of exploring ideas and transmitting knowledge. Her prior series have treated mortality (in Leaving: A Meditation on Death, 1998) and the effects of pollution on the world around us (in “Water Stories,” 2014). Although meaning is present in her most recent series, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” it is not totally fixed; this body of paintings does not deal quite so explicitly with worldly issues. Rather, these serial works, primarily realized on fourteen-by-eleven-inch canvases, engage with the matter of painting: Neely references her own process, rhymes painterly passages, and plumbs the history of the medium. She avoids any single style and instead channels the spirits of other painters, from Les Nabis to Philip Guston. Moreover, “Hidden in Plain Sight” transmits Neely’s delight in acts of composition. She clearly relishes daubing, dissolving, spraying, squishing, pressing, scraping, spreading, scumbling, and combing the pigment on canvas. Her vast imagination about possible techniques surely owes something to her explorations of printmaking as well as to more than forty years of experience with her primary medium. The artist has suggested that dwelling in a specific place is important in order for her to capture some of the site’s essence. A new inflection informs her methodology here; now, she dwells on painting. 

For much of the last three decades, Neely has created paintings that refer directly or indirectly to the landscape. Many of her works in this vein represent oscillating views, which push and pull the beholder between aerial and subterranean vistas. Despite multiple perspectives, they are without fail oriented horizontally—in the typical fashion of landscape paintings. While the new paintings are mostly vertical compositions, they bear the imprint of Neely’s past production. For example, The Scream (2017) suggests an overhead view with cartographic trails and diluvial traces in white on pine, which recall the poured paint flows of Neely’s “Water Stories.” Building Landscape (2017) has transfer-printed paint in the lower edge that could depict mountains or trees. However, despite her title, Neely thwarts an easy reading of a panorama by emphasizing the flatness of the support, superimposing a spray-painted ovoid and brushy navy chevron on the surface. Similarly, A Simple Painting (2017), with its bush (resembling an extraterrestrial life form) in the center of a decorative yellow-ochre ground, presents a vision of nature isolated from picturesqueness. 

Just as traces of past practice are visible in recent work, so too can we find in older projects markers signaling the trails Neely would blaze in her current paintings. The aptly entitled Surprise (2009) strongly anticipates her shift to painting about painting. Its giant dragged curve in grape-soda purple, punctuated by blue and black rhizomatic crackles, breaks through the tree-frog-green and Meyer lemon-yellow striations glimmering across her canvas. “Hidden in Plain Sight” is replete with these kinds of juxtapositions of color and texture. Canvases like the multihued Blackbird Fly (2017)—in which a similar purple smear is juxtaposed against a black slashing, calligraphic figure on a light green ground—and After Howard Hodgkin (2017) both hum and wail. In Odalisque and Ghost (both 2017) she achieves dazzling compositions by speaking in the voices of Pierre Bonnard and Gustav Klimt, respectively. Becoming a medium herself, Neely draws upon the wealth of painting knowledge she has accrued over a lifetime as a voracious consumer of art books and a seasoned traveler to museums the world over. In what is only an apparent paradox, she paints in such a fresh manner because of her wisdom.

Neely began “Hidden in Plain Sight” after contemplating a grouping of wooden paint stirrers on a palette in her studio. She was drawn to the arrangement and felt compelled to render it in paint, realizing chance had gifted her a compelling composition. Canvases like Cypher and Hidden in Plain Sight (both 2017) contain groupings of stirrer-like forms that closely resemble what she had seen. The two titles provide clues about the importance of these paintings for unlocking her others. Evoking Ellsworth Kelly (who often made seemingly abstract paintings referring to concrete forms), Neely transformed the stirring sticks into planes of bold color. But her sense of humor and irreverence distinguish her painting from the drier work of the late painter from Spencertown. Instead, she also takes a page out of the book of Jasper Johns, who often mined his prior oeuvre for new production. Again and again he reprised a Savarin coffee can filled with brushes, a motif pulled from the headwaters of his artistic process.

There is also a ludic and mischievous side to Neely’s output that parallels Johns’s. For, in addition to referencing objects from her studio environment, she animates the paint stick forms by giving them beady eyes and, in some cases, gaping mouths and limbs. Indeed, yet another figure haunts her operations: the painter Philip Guston. While still working in his abstract expressionist mode, he described the space in which he painted as “the narrow passage from a diagramming to that other state—a corporeality.”[i] It is in this gap between the graphic and the bodily that Neely maneuvers, too. Her The Scream (2017), an amusing reprisal of Edvard Munch’s homunculus, is particularly successful in this sense. Such whimsical figures abound in Neely’s work, although they are sometimes hard to spot.

Neely hopes audiences will commence “just looking” at her painted surfaces. In a painting with this title (as well as in others), an off-kilter network of expressive interweaving brushstrokes covers the entire canvas. The white sieve structure gives the spectator the feeling she is peering through a net or basket, though precisely what vista lies below in Just Looking’s (2017) partially obscured black and blue under layer is unclear.[ii] Flat frontal planes and grid patterns emphasize materiality. Additionally, the canvases’ vertical “portrait” orientation and absence of horizon lines deny association to landscape. Neely’s rapturous marks and vivid fields of color produce visual pleasure: spectators savor regarding the paint.

Nonetheless, in some canvases, she craftily incorporates depth by superimposed layerings and multiply coded shapes. In Memory (2017) and Cypher, forms that initially read as planar faces—each with a geometric mouth, single dot eye, and hair affixed with barrettes—can equally become proscenium stages with elaborate curtains. About Water and Fodder (both 2017) are all-overs, respectively in blue and brown, with wavering woven grids, which the painter achieved by scratching down to the grain of the canvas with needle-like tacks. While optically stimulating, they are resolutely non-figurative—and do not host small beings. Both paintings recall textiles, especially plaid tablecloths or tea towels, which are typically coded feminine and domestic. The grid structures many fabric designs; it is also one of the ur-motifs of modernist abstraction (as the critic Rosalind Krauss explored in the late 1970s).[iii]

Thus, it might be said that many of Neely’s canvases are feminist and feminine reimaginings of the grid. A matrix—a word referring to regular organizational structures, a rocky mass in which jewels and stones are embedded, and etymologically comes from the Latin word for womb—undergirds nearly all of the works in “Hidden in Plain Sight.” These possible meanings most clearly crystalize in The Flower and the Jewel (2017). This painting is built up of jagged touches, in a pink and peach, Guston-esque palette, which radiate from a divisionist light pink and purple core—just slightly decentered. A spattering of darker marks appears on the outer edge. The painter Georg Baselitz once remarked that Guston’s paintings were “not that abstract,” but a “distortion of the abstract, full of concrete forms.”[iv] His words ring true for Neely, who also does not trade in pure abstraction. Although The Flower and the Jewel might depict the titular subjects, the canvas seems to perform a celebration of (or confrontation with) female genitalia. It reworks The Origin of the World (Gustave Courbet’s 1866 painting of the same subject) for the contemporary moment, reclaiming the subject.[v] Equally topical are Man (2017), a grotesque black, purple, and blond head, and Fence (2017), a meandering ink weave over a bubblegum pink ovoid, which conjures up the “pussy hats” of the January 2017 women’s marches.

Ultimately, aligning with Neely’s wider oeuvre, “Hidden in Plain Sight” may be seen to catalyze new comprehension. She reminds us that not all important information comes in the form of weighty prose; jokes, as Sigmund Freud famously taught, can affect (and reflect) the contents of the subconscious. So too might the searching contemplation of lighter paintings impact our imaginations and understandings. Neely’s artist’s statement mentions that, like so many of us, she shifts through various identities. With “Hidden in Plain Sight” she travels through them artistically, inviting spectators along. Ideas, old and new, dwell in Neely’s paintings; dwelling on them brings those ideas to life.

[i] Philip Guston, “Statement in Twelve Americans” (1956) in Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations, Documents of Twentieth-Cenutry Art, ed. Clark Coolidge (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011), 10.

[ii] The painting began with a landscape, according to the artist.

[iii] See Rosalind Krauss, “Grids,” October 9 (summer 1979): 50-64.

[iv] Georg Baselitz in conversation with Michael Auping, March 18, 1999, cited in Auping, “Impure Thoughts: On Guston’s Abstraction,” in Philip Guston Retrospective, exh. cat (Fort Worth: Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and Thames & Hudson, 2003), 45.

[v] Courbet’s perspective is clearly detached from (and other to) the body he depicts, while Neely proposes more ambiguous ownership with the tight crop of her vaginal scene.

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This essay was written as part of the Art Critic Mentoring Program, a partnership between AICA-USA (US section of International Association of Art Critics) and CUE, which pairs emerging writers with AICA-USA mentors to produce original essays on a specific exhibiting artist. Please visit aicausa.org for more information on AICA-USA, or cueartfoundation.org to learn how to participate in this program. Any quotes are from interviews with the author unless otherwise specified. No part of this essay may be reproduced without prior consent from the author. Lilly Wei is AICA’s Coordinator for the program this season. 

John A. Tyson is an assistant professor at UMass Boston. From 2015-2017 he was the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow in the Departments of Modern and American Prints and Drawings and British and American Paintings at the National Gallery of Art. There he curated Matthias Mansen: ConfigurationsParallel Practices: Artists and the Moving Image, and New Waves: Transatlantic Bonds between Film and Art in the 1960s. Tyson’s writing has appeared in Art in PrintWord & Image, and the International Review of African American Art, as well as in other journals, catalogues, and online platforms.

Mentor Nancy Princenthal is a New York-based critic and former Senior Editor of Art in America; other publications to which she has contributed include ArtforumParkett, the Village Voice, and the New York Times. Her book Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art (Thames and Hudson) was published in June 2015. She is also the author of Hannah Wilke (Prestel, 2010), and her essays have appeared in monographs on Shirin Neshat, Doris Salcedo, Robert Mangold and Alfredo Jaar, among many others. She is a co-author of two recent books on leading women artists, including The Reckoning: Women Artists of the New Millennium (Prestel, fall 2013). Having taught at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College; Princeton University; Yale University, RISD, Montclair State University and elsewhere, she is currently on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts. 

"Stare as Long as You Want" by Shantay Robinson

Added on by Shona Masarin.

This essay was produced in conjunction with the exhibition Nancy Floyd: Weathering Time, on view at CUE Art Foundation, September 7–October 21, 2017. This text is included in the free exhibition catalogue available at CUE.

Protest 1984/1998/2016, 2017. Archival inkjet print on Epson Exhibition Fiber. 10” x 20.3”

Protest 1984/1998/2016, 2017. Archival inkjet print on Epson Exhibition Fiber. 10” x 20.3”

When Nancy Floyd started the photographic series Weathering Time in 1982, no one could have conceived how smartphones would change our lives. Today, taking selfies has become a daily habit for many. But as recently as 1982, people were still using Polaroid cameras for instant photographs or buying film and developing their pictures at Fotomat. It wasn’t typical of people to document their every move with photographs. But after Floyd received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts photography, she developed the idea of photographing herself every day to document the aging of her body over time. When she started, she photographed herself each morning before heading to her waitressing job so she wouldn’t fail to do it after a long day at work. In the 35 years since, she’s gone from waiting tables to retiring from a career as a professor of photography; she plans to take photographs of herself until her last day.

If you are a Baby Boomer, you’ll recognize the clothing fashionable in Floyd’s youth. You’ll reminisce about the technology of the early 80s. You’ll likely know what it means to lose a parent or both. Boomers value the hard work it takes to get as far as Nancy Floyd has in her life. While Millennials are used to having knowledge at the tip of their fingers, Floyd was only afforded a college education because she was the youngest of six children, the rest of whom had left home by the time she was ready to go to school. And as many Millennials race to be famous and rich as soon as possible, they can view this exhibition as the timeline of a healthy life. While there have been several studies conducted to understand the differences between Boomers and Millennials, and it’s been found that they may not have the same values, viewing Weathering Time bridges generations.  Change is inevitable for everyone.

It may have been her father’s interest in taking pictures of the family that inspired Floyd to begin photographing herself. Her reward system was approval from her dad, not anonymous associates on social media. It would be easy to overlook the family portrait by Floyd’s father included among her own images. Her consistent use of black-and-white photography provides a seamless transition between photographs of the past and more current ones. Although Floyd as the subject is a constant, and she repeats compositions, the objects and people accompanying her vary. Attempting to gain the greatest depth in each photograph, the subjects are captured fully, from head to toe. Unlike the photographs by selfie enthusiasts who use apps to remove blemishes or to make themselves appear taller and thinner before posting to social media, Floyd presents her portraits unfiltered. Bravely, she hasn’t succumbed to body ideals and in her boldness really defies them. Although in a few of the photographs she appears right out of bed, wearing a T-shirt and underwear, or hiding behind a pillow, she does not sexualize herself. Throughout the years, Floyd doesn’t wear make-up, keeps her hair short, and doesn’t show off her curves.

Unlike the famous conceptual portraitist Cindy Sherman, who produces “selfies” on a grand scale, Floyd doesn’t aim to create elaborate spectacles through staging scenes or creating characters. She may revisit a pose, a person, or a location. She may wear the same clothes. But Floyd does not transform her identity with make-up, hair, and costumes. Instead she simply shows by example how authenticity can direct a successful life. Grouping photographs with similar poses offers viewers the chance to discern those things that are modified by time like machinery, modes of transportation, or equipment, implicitly identifying the advancement of the artist’s experiences by these ephemera. As a self-portraitist, Floyd is less interested in making herself look iconic, as Sherman does, than in exhibiting the type of evolution that is common among most lives.

Although Floyd herself is the main subject in Weathering Time, she also provides time-lapse portraits of her family as they age and have children of their own. This is akin to the work of Nicholas Nixon, who has photographed his wife and her three sisters every year since 1975 in the series, The Brown Sisters. Through the series, we watch Nixon’s wife and her sisters age and connect more lovingly with one another in the process. Floyd’s photographs capture her parents from the early 1980s until their deaths; she includes images of her embracing them while they are well and as they fall ill. Their deaths had a dramatic effect on Floyd’s practice. During the months her parents died, she took few pictures, and she includes the contact sheets representing those months’ photographs to illustrate the many days she did not take photographs. Consequently, the theme of this body of work transcends the idea of simply aging to incorporate the inevitability of mortality. We will all be gone one day, but we will leave behind our pictures, our experiences with others, and even our social media feeds as our legacies, signaling the value of the image and the impermanence of being.

 Just as Floyd doesn’t stay in the same position throughout her life, neither does anyone else who attempts to improve their life. Comparable to the well-known Up series by Michael Apted, which documented the lives of fourteen British people of various social classes every seven years from 1964 until 2013, Floyd’s Weathering Time shows her change in social status. While some of the changes that occurred to the subjects of the documentary series were unforeseen, so too were developments in Floyd’s life. She might have been content waiting tables while continuing to create art, but life had different plans. As evidenced from the photographs, Floyd moved across the country multiple times to seek greater opportunities. And while her modes of transportation became more advanced, so too did her status in life.

  In addition to showing us changes of the body, and in technology, she even documents changes in her ideas. As a young woman, she photographed herself with rhetoric about animal abuse on a t-shirt and at her current age she dons a t-shirt with the slogan “black lives matter.” And we can only guess that the artist’s understanding of the world has evolved as well.

In their simplicity, the moments she captures are easily relatable: arms around close family members with smiles for the camera and children sitting in laps. Instead of capturing the phenomenal, she captures the ordinary and has made it note-worthy by placing images adjacent to one another, demonstrating meaning that supersedes her personal existence and touching the viewer by sympathetic understanding. Floyd believes, “the beauty of portraiture is the ability to stare as long as you want.” Her viewers are welcome to engage for extended periods of time. And many find her accessible enough to engage in conversations about their own photographs and lives when they meet.

Floyd’s work predates the selfies of today while still providing an entry point of understanding for a generation of people who don’t typically understand her generation. And that’s what’s golden about the work. So many things have changed in the time since she started this project that it speaks to every generation with a narrative demonstrating the impermanence of time. This timeline allows for looking intensely at the change that can happen over a lifetime or in just a few years. While the narrative that Floyd creates in this photographic series may encourage our acceptance of change, she states that, “For real change to happen, you have to be active.”  Creating this exhibition might be the action that Floyd contributes to instituting a realization that everything takes time—even change.

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This essay was written as part of the Art Critic Mentoring Program, a partnership between AICA-USA (US section of International Association of Art Critics) and CUE, which pairs emerging writers with AICA-USA mentors to produce original essays on a specific exhibiting artist. Please visit aicausa.org for more information on AICA-USA, or cueartfoundation.org to learn how to participate in this program. Any quotes are from interviews with the author unless otherwise specified. No part of this essay may be reproduced without prior consent from the author. Lilly Wei is AICA’s Coordinator for the program this season. 

Shantay Robinson, an Atlanta-based art writer, has been featured in Arts ATL, Burnaway, Number, Inc., AFROPUNK, and ARTS.BLACK.  Her scholarly work includes the presentation of papers at Savannah College of Art and Design’s (SCAD) Symposium on Art and Fashion: From Peplos to Petticoat to Punk; and at Georgia State University’s New Voices Conference. Robinson participated in Burnaway’s inaugural Art Writers Mentorship Program and in an editorial fellowship through Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies. She also produces videos that have screened at art galleries, museums, and universities. Robinson earned a bachelor’s degree in Media Management from Syracuse University; an MFA in Writing from SCAD; and a master’s in Communication and Composition from Minnesota State University. She teaches Rhetoric and Composition at Clayton State University. 

Mentor Nancy Princenthal is a New York-based critic and former Senior Editor of Art in America; other publications to which she has contributed include ArtforumParkett, the Village Voice, and the New York Times. Her book Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art (Thames and Hudson) was published in June 2015. She is also the author of Hannah Wilke (Prestel, 2010), and her essays have appeared in monographs on Shirin Neshat, Doris Salcedo, Robert Mangold and Alfredo Jaar, among many others. She is a co-author of two recent books on leading women artists, including The Reckoning: Women Artists of the New Millennium (Prestel, fall 2013). Having taught at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College; Princeton University; Yale University, RISD, Montclair State University and elsewhere, she is currently on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts. 

"Making Noise: Wendy Red Star" by Josephine Zarkovich

Added on by Shona Masarin.

This essay was produced in conjunction with the exhibition Wendy Red Star: Um-basax-bilua “Where They Make The Noise," curated by Michelle Grabner, on view at CUE Art Foundation, June 1–July 13, 2017. 

In 1851, Chief Sits in the Middle of the Land negotiated with the United States to define the territory of the Apsáalooke (Crow). He stated his aspirations for the future of his people, proclaiming: “Where my four base teepee poles touch the ground, will be my land.”[1] As an undergraduate at Montana State University located in Bozeman, Wendy Red Star’s research found that this treaty had included Bozeman, and by extension all the land held by the university[2]. In response to this history Red Star erected a traveling installation of lodge pole teepees across the campus, disrupting common walking paths and briefly occupying the football field. It was the beginning of a practice that utilizes brash humor, scholarly research, and personal narratives to hold space in a postcolonial world, often reworking clichéd imagery of Native Americans to satirical effect.

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"Shawn Thornton: Pareidolia" by Becky Huff Hunter

Added on by Shona Masarin.

This essay was written in conjunction with the exhibition Shawn Thornton: Pareidolia, curated by Tom Burckhardt, on view at CUE Art Foundation, April 13–May 24, 2017.

Witch Doctors at the Eye of the Solar Epoch (2008-2010) is a long, landscape-oriented oil painting on panel whose dimensions and compositional structure resemble a folded-out paper map. In urgent hues, it presents a god’s-eye view of a watery city or an entire cosmos, punctuated with networks of mystical and mathematical symbols. Curving sections of pale blue, white, and brown might be water and roadways. Yet Thornton also represents some subjects conventionally, head-on, as in his depiction of a simple, brown sailboat on blue water, which is constructed from the same blocks of color that make the map. The notations include tiny rainbows and Coptic crosses; infinity signs and directional arrows; skulls connected to spinal columns, whose geometric vertebrae look like railway tracks, rendered in brown and orange; and cartouches of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing—which angels supposedly fed on parchment to spiritual seekers, Thornton said. Witch Doctors comprises multiple systems coming together and falling apart, held tentatively by invisible bonds. The modestly sized painting is worked with tens of layers of tiny, almost invisible brushstrokes. While seemingly flat at first glance, and in reproduction, the painting is actually constructed of tiny low reliefs—the slow, small brushstrokes and the shapes’ carefully-delineated borders draw the viewer’s attention to minute differences between sections.

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"Beverly Fishman: Color Coding Big Pharma" By Zachary Small

Added on by Shona Masarin.

This essay was written in conjunction with the exhibition Beverly Fishman: DOSE, curated by Nick Cave, on view at CUE Art Foundation, February 23–April 15, 2017. 

From inside the pillbox, Beverly Fishman chooses her favorite colors with a calculating eye. A master color theorist, Fishman explores the allure of intoxication—the fluorescent highs of addiction and sickly flesh tones of withdrawal. With her vivid and enticingly colored pills, Fishman formulates a response to the role of aesthetics within the pharmaceutical industry. She appropriates the visual vocabulary of post-industrial minimalism to delve into the psychology of addiction. 

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"The Visible Hand" by Rachel Valinsky

Added on by Shona Masarin.

This essay was written in conjunction with The Visible Hand, curated by David Borgonjon, on view at CUE January 7 – February 15, 2017.

Let’s begin by dismissing the notion that a purely agonistic relationship between the artist and the institution still holds. Such a strict opposition, if it ever applied, has eroded, revealing the increasing degree to which the notion of an outsidean alternative sphere of production and circulation, safe from the reaches of institutional and corporate strongholds—also must crumble. Artists today operate as administrators and consultants, grant writers and promoters, developers, coders, and graphic designers; they ride the wave launched in the sixties and accelerated in the nineties of the diversification of the labor force within the arts, a diversification that ceaselessly draws art practices closer to non-art professions.

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