October 21, 2014 Repository 159: Three Artists Celebrate Art History | An Elephant in the Room Posted In: art practice, contemporary art, exhibition of note, perspective

A strange byproduct of the current system of art, at least the art in the marketplace and in graduate schools, is the ignorance of art historical reference and the assumption that all artists are on an island of one’s own, that stealing is what artists do, and that your individual spirit is louder than thousands of years of history. Surprisingly, and unbeknownst to non-art historians or non-art theorists, there are many artists, professional and otherwise, that throw a blind eye to art history.

Which is why three shows this year focused exactly and unapologetically on art history are refreshing. Playing with the concepts of roots, lineage and from whence we come is a welcome reminder in seemingly untethered artistic circles.

INstallation photos of Robert Longo's "Grand Cosmos". Courtesy Metro Pictures and the artist.

INstallation photos of Robert Longo’s “Gang of Cosmos”. Courtesy Metro Pictures and the artist.

The first is a show, “Gang of Cosmos”, at Metro Pictures by Robert Longo. Longo, now 61, had his break out moment in the eighties with photo realistic black and white charcoals of “Men in the Cities”. This show is full of meticulously rendered copies in black and white charcoal of contemporary art masterpieces, specifically Abstract Expressionist. These are hyper realist drawings of other people’s art work, and out of the nine Abstract Expressionist painters represented, three are women (thank you Robert!). Appropriation is a word that could be used here easily, though I think this falls in line with the artist’s obsession with power and authority in the majority of his other work. How are Reinhardt, de Kooning and Pollack not mythic figures of power and authority in art history? By making these monolithic, earnest pieces perhaps he is thanking them, or releasing their hold on him.

Annie Kevans, "Sonia Delauney", oil on paper, courtesy the artist.

Annie Kevans, “Sonia Delauney”, oil on paper, courtesy the artist.

The second is a show by Annie Kavens, “Women and the History of Art” at Jenkins Johnson Gallery in San Francisco, about women in art history. I say bravo, bravo! What a kind homage, and what an important tribute to the many female artists who have not been given proper credence. As for Kavens’ style I’m not a huge fan, it’s very safe (think Elizabeth Peyton meets Karen Kilimnick without the awesome self-consciousness and ruminating).

Promotional image for John Baldessari's "Art Film", courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery and the artist.

Promotional image for John Baldessari’s “Movie Scripts/ Art”, courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery and the artist.

Lastly, and of most consequence I believe, is the show “Movie Scripts/ Art” at Marian Goodman by John Baldessari. Baldessari is now 81 years old, and has stayed fairly steady with his obsessions with text, image and art theory, continually smashing powerful narrative images with provocative snippets of text. This particular suite of works takes details from masterpieces and pairs them with excerpts from film scripts. It’s autobiographical in a way – he has lived in Los Angeles for years and is most definitely a celebrity in his old age, the elbow rubbing with stars and film gurus has rubbed off on his work. He has also been steeped in art theory and art history along the entire road of his career: starting in the 60s with the art theory paintings, the 1972 singing of the Sol Lewit’s artist statement, and 2012 with the body of work where he juxtaposed different artists with each other titled “Double Bill”.

Out of the three I am the biggest fan of the Baldessari approach to art history…taking a piece of it and flipping it on its ears so as to create new meaning. After all everything changes, and how you perceive the changes, with dusty nostalgia or brave curiosity, will make all the difference.


John Baldessari : Movie Scripts/ Art | Marian Goodman Gallery | October 22 – November 22, 2014

Annie Kevans : Women and the History | Jenkins Johnson Gallery | October 2 – December 23, 2014

Robert Longo: Gang of Cosmos | Metro Pictures | April 10, 2014 – May 23, 2014

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