Currently on at Matthew Marks’ Chelsea gallery location, artist Julien Nguyen has selected a series of recent paintings to mark the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery. Spanning a selection of works that showcase the artist’s attentive and expressive output, the show features thirteen oil paintings made over the past three years.
Nguyen is known for his deftly rendered paintings that combine elements of art history, science fiction, and contemporary subjects, blending hybridized subject matter into an engaging interpolation of the contemporary and historical. Building new vocabularys, and occasionally whole worlds out of a familiar grammar of both modern imagery and classical art, he often uses biblical and classical themes as a starting point, including Ave Maria (2019), a take on the Madonna Enthroned, and St. John the Baptist (2020), a reworking of Caravaggio’s John the Baptist featuring one of Nguyen’s friends as the model. The exhibition focuses in particular on this recent emphasis on portraiture, with depictions of friends, lovers, and fellow artists painted from life. He has said of his art, “Reality occurs only in the intimacy of understanding and being understood.” The Los Angeles studio where he lives and works can be seen in several paintings, including one that presents the view from a second-story window in a depiction as thoroughly detailed as it is inventive.
The work makes for a striking counterpoint on so much of the work we have seen come out of the past year of painterly practice, a time where, pent up during quarantine, artists often found themselves delving into the journalistic and deeply personal. In this body of work, Nguyen serves as an operator of that personal archive, not just using his personal relationships and connections as material, but rather as generative modes, turning their interactions with the history of art, and his figures’ own personalities into an echoing conversation on modernity and experience.
The show is on view through August 13th.
– J. Shrine
Julien Nguyen: Pictures of the Floating World [Exhibition Site]