Autonomous Brushwork: Warhol, Wool, Guyton at Nahmad Contemporary
Warhol Wool Guyton at Nahmad Contemporary
November 2, 2016 to January 14, 2017
980 Madison Avenue, between 76 and 77 streets
New York City, nahmadcontemporary.com
Across the room, one of Warhol’s “Rorschach” paintings imitates the legendary “inkblot” test developed by the Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach –evidently some of the only imagery for which the artist developed his own painting, rather than repurposing photographs. Like Warhol’s Rorschach, the silkscreened ink splatter of Christopher Wool’s Minor Mishap (Black) (2001) conjures up the death – or perhaps the afterlife – of Abstract Expressionism. Indeed, much of Wool’s mature work has gone on to address such questions. The silk-screened reproduction of painted, gestural brushstrokes raises questions about autonomy and authority in painting – questions which Warhol’s work unleashed with a vengeance. In its chromatic austerity, this room obliged viewers to concentrate on formal rhymes and contrasts, many of which reward patient looking.
Individual canvases could also bear their own mysteries. In Warhol’s series of silkscreened crosses, a few of the white forms bleed into each other – exceptions that instigate attention to the rule of their order. Near the middle of the canvas one finds the faintest line, traced in such a way – however unwittingly – to suggest a horizon, which contravenes the relentless flatness of the painting. The formal details of Wool’s paintings frequently come in the form of the pixels of which they are composed, again suggesting an update of Lichtenstein’s Ben-Day dots for the virtual age.
The exhibition’s second room bursts into color. From the slightly ribbed surface of Guyton’s untitled fireplace white dots seem almost to rise like ash or sparks from the proverbial fire, while red “paint” appears smeared upwards in one area. A more dramatic smearing appears in Wool’s Double Blue Nose (2003), which almost suggests an erased Brice Marden painting – evoking once again the fate of abstraction, this time by way of Rauschenberg’s erasure of De Kooning’s drawing. The slightly earlier Untitled (2001) appears looser in the skeins and loops of its red lines. Not all of the works here are painterly. The primary colors of Guyton’s wayward X’s (the red letter shadowed by a black counterpart) bring to mind Mondrian’s neoplasticism. Once again, the repetition of the two, seemingly identical blue X’s makes technological reproduction unavoidable as a point of reference. Based on a shadow photographed in his office, Warhol called his Shadow paintings silkscreens “that I mop over with paint.” A close view of the canvases reveals the almost impasto swirls of giant brushstrokes. Nearly all of the spontaneous, “autonomous” brushwork in this exhibition appears in reified form, in the abeyance of photographic or scanned reproduction. But the eddy of Warhol’s (or an assistant’s, however the case was) brush betrays – just on the eve of the 1980s – a renewed investment in the hand’s trace.