About Like So: The Influence of Painting at Franklin Street Works
November 22, 2014 to February 22, 2015
41 Franklin Street (between Broad and North streets)
Stamford, CT, 203 253 0404
“About Like So: The Influence of Painting,” recently on view at Franklin Street Works in Stamford, Connecticut, was a cogent group show on the effect of painting — its “histories, forms, materials, and other qualities” as the curator, Terri C. Smith, concisely puts it — on contemporary art and its conceptual grounds. An expansive exhibition, it succeeded in showing a wide spectrum of ways in which painting has goaded contemporary practice, extremely effectively. All of the ways painting can rear its head in contemporary art making, in media other than what we traditionally know as painting, were on view, which was quite a feat in the three-room space.
Franklin Street Works opened in the center of Stamford in September 2011 in one building of a row of brick townhouses constructed in the late 1800s. The community has evidently embraced the on- and off-site arts programming, experimental music nights, site-specific performance art projects and community gatherings offered by the space, which includes an adjoining cafe. Smith, creative director since its inception, wrote an informative gallery handout to accompany the gathering of works. This noted that the catalyzing question for the exhibition was, “In an era where painting no longer has the art historical primacy it once did, what can it contribute to the dominant art practices of today — art that is often not medium specific and is rooted in the theory driven practices of conceptual art?” The exhibition revealed that painting still has plenty to add to current art-world conversations, in ways apparent and less so.
Some of the connections came easily. A collaborative 1993 performance by K.R.H. Sonderborg, Wolfgang Hannen, Günter, Christmann and Paul Lovens, presented as a video, was the earliest example shown of painting seeping into other media. It’s a good backdrop from which to consider the show at large. Action painting is performed along side experimental music as the two dip in and out of sync. In moments it appears as though each medium has nothing to do with the other, before painting either falls into a type of symmetry with the sound or appears to lead it.
Leslie Wayne’s series, Paint/Rag (2012 and 2014), where the surface of a glossy, seemingly still-wet painting has been peeled from its flat surface and draped over a hook like a damp towel, was sensorially enticing. It was almost like the artist had taken a novel approach to hanging them up to dry; I so badly wanted to touch what I knew was a sturdy sculptural piece that was imploring me to explore its folds.
Ragnheiður Gestsdóttir’s As If We Existed (2010) mused on the theme of the pained, but enigmatic artist stereotype. Featuring performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson as the troubled, wordless painter, repeating tasks from day to day against the setting of Venice’s glinting canals, it was food for thought on the “baggage” of painting — what histories and assumptions follow the medium and those who use it.
Taylor Davis’s 2012 sculpture, TBOX No. 1, made new the tradition of trompe l’oeil. The artist’s birch plywood box construction is plastered with blue painters’ tape arrows, that, on very close inspection only just betray themselves as a illusion. They are, of course, not tape but a painted replication of it.
In a show where conceptual links were being made in so many different ways, the handout was important for understanding some of the conversations between painting and ideas in individual works, and served as a type of wall-text document to facilitate the making of intellectual connections. Occasionally more information was needed. The challenge was that in many of the pieces, painting, as a concept, was not necessarily the primary theme at play.
The multiple conversations in Tameka Norris’s video projection, Purple Painting (2011), which snatched the viewer’s first glance on entering the space, were hard to access with so much happening around it, and the work could have benefitted from greater explication. Similarly, some works that appeared to have a simple relationship to painting, like Paul Branca’s Untitled, for Rodchenko (2013), where monochrome paintings in bright red, yellow, and blue are made on canvas tote bags, could have been helped by more explanation on how this fits into Branca’s practice (the tote bags are a recurring theme), and what concepts outside of painting he deals with in this work and in his practice at large. In both cases, the connection to painting was clear but the works perhaps suffered by not being able to tell any other stories.
The amount of work that came together in three rooms, with 20 artists and 34 works, was impressive. “About Like So” showed the pervasiveness of painting in a whole horde of ways. The beauty in the show was its freedom. You didn’t have to love every work there, and indeed it would be rare with such a diverse grouping. But in each the argument for the conceptual link between the piece and this storied medium was undeniable, and overall the show made some important connections between the art-historical canon and current conventions and functions of art that any contemporary art viewer will benefit from having in mind.print