Based in Williamsburg, The Journal has carved out a unique path for itself in the contemporary discourse, representing a group of young artists that share a particular interest in the capacity for intersections of painting, printmaking, and conceptual practice. Sharing techniques rooted in repetition, abstracted figuration, humor, and an occasionally visceral approach to the painterly mark, the artists embraced by The Journal have come to represent a markedly cohesive school of practice in New York over the past years.
It’s this technical camaraderie that sits at the center of LIFE, an exhibition presented by The Journal at Venus Over Manhattan’s 980 Madison space on the Upper East Side. Allowing a broad range of artists who have worked with the space over the past years to include works, the exhibition provides a fitting look not only at a particular creative approach to painting and sculpture over the past decade in New York, but also at the gallery’s notable influence on the art establishment today.
It’s not hard to notice the stylistic similarities in the works of LIFE. Slurred, harsh abstraction constantly play off against, formal sculptures incorporating quotidian materials like shelves, cabinets and brick walls. The artists on view embrace immediacy in their canvases, from Rita Ackermann’s immediately recognizable Fire By Days series (in which she continually repaints a canvas created by accident in her studio using different materials and paints), or Dan McCarthy’s slur of colors in 1967 San Juan Capistrano. The movements are quick and decisive, with space given over to chance and mistake.
At the same time, the works equally bring a sense of humor and deconstruction to play that challenge a singular, authoritative reading of the works. As in Joe Bradley’s Untitled, a subtle hint at a smiley-face, rendered in oil stick, can be pulled from the work, playing off against a simplified exercise in gesture and space. Playing at concepts of painterly “masterworks,” the piece carries enough humor to repeatedly sabotage either a fully serious or comical reading. Similarly, Leo Gabin’s large mixed media canvas blends recognizable tropes of collage and photography found in Richard Prince’s work, but disarms the piece with the inclusion of several Miami Dolphins baseball caps laid over his studious, technically strong work.
Against these canvases, the gallery has welcomed a group of sculptures that continue the same series of deconstructive exercises. Sarah Braman sends up 1960’s minimalism and pop appropriation in equal measure with her plexiglass and filing cabinet assemblage, and Graham Collins executes a similar movement on the other side of the room, preserving construction materials in enormous glass vitrines. Titled Interior Landscape, the layers of institutional framework he places into the piece (a series of bland minimalist pieces locked in glass cases tucked away inside a white cube gallery space) makes for a surreal and striking final work.
Taken as a whole, noticeable threads can be traced through the works on view, not only uniting the artists on hand, but in equal measure the curatorial focus and impact of The Journal on New York’s arts community today. Given the stature these artists have reached in the contemporary landscape (Ackermann is represented by Hauser and Wirth, Bradley has found a home with Gavin Brown, and Eddie Martinez is currently showing at Half Gallery), The Journal has found a place for itself as an advocate for a particularly powerful approach to contemporary art making, and its guest curator role at Venus Over Manhattan only strengthens its claim.
— D. Creahan
LIFE at Venus Over Manhattan [Venus Over Manhattan]