Artist Chris Martin admits that the initial idea behind the exhibition title, Party at Phong’s House, was to throw a party at Phong Bui‘s home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The longtime publisher of the Brooklyn Rail is a fixture in the city’s art scene and he regularly entertains at his home.
Yet, the resulting exhibition at Galeria Janet Kurnatowski is a rather thrilling journey through some abstract tendencies in current painting. While the show focuses on painting in Brooklyn, Martin includes a cross-section of generations and geographic regions. The press release for the show declares that it is an exhibition “about the new abstract painting” and clarifies the real motive behind the gallery display (just in case you thought I was joking) was “to have a party afterwards at Phong’s house”–coincidentally the party happened after the opening this month and Phong was out of town at the time.
The artists included in the show are–to name only a few–some well-known painters (Amy Sillman, Bill Jensen, Peter Acheson, Thornton Dial), emerging artists (EJ Hauser, Ben LaRocco, Nora Griffin), and some fresh new faces (Malado Baldwin struck me immediately). Phong was also included with a large piece purposely propped up on wood blocks. Amidst the human artists was the work of an elephant painter–the gallery owner assured me there’s a whole industry around animal art.
All in all, the paintings in Party at Phong’s House seemed vibrant, compact, and shied away from hard-edge abstraction preferring a more human (by which I mean imperfect) line. They are hung in unorthodox ways and places–on the ceiling, leaning against the wall and on shelves. There is a sense of simplicity in the works accompanied by an almost folksy pleasure in the materiality of paint. It was a show that seemed to be curated based on instinct and it inspired me to speak to the curator about his curatorial choices. Below is an edited transcript of that brief email interview.
Hrag Vartanian: What is Party at Phong’s House about? Is it about the state of abstraction today?
Chris Martin: I don’t know what it’s about. I think the show was going to be about abstraction today but realized that I’m not so sure what abstraction is, or means… People think of me as an abstract painter but I spend a lot of my time thinking about Thornton Dial, so I put Dial in the show…
HV: One of the oldest jokes in the contemporary art world is the idea that “my kid could do that.” In your exhibition you include a painting by an elephant, why?
CM: When I was a guard at the Guggenheim Museum–a long time ago–I used to hear that quite a bit. It used to make me feel defensive about modern art… But then I realized, they’re right! Their kid could do that. The real question is–could THEY do it?… I mean kids are the best artists in the world…Interesting that at the opening there was this little kid and his favorite painting–he kept going up to it and pointing–his favorite piece was by Sri Siam the elephant. I put this elephant in the show because I think he’s a good painter.
HV: The way you hung the show was rather unorthodox, clustering panels on one wall and including the ceilings. Is there a reason?
CM: I don’t know why I hung the show the way I did.
HV: There is a heavy Brooklyn-focus to the show. What are you trying to say about Brooklyn abstraction? Is there anything that defines or unifies abstract artists working in Brooklyn now?
CM: The Brooklyn focus to the show probably reflects that most younger painters—and many many artists live in Brooklyn… but not Anrud, Acheson, Gallo Dial, Fox, Tal R, Siam… I sense a feeling of openness with Brooklyn artists young and old, a feeling of new possibilities, an eagerness to make paintings, and to make more paintings and more paintings. I think many young Brooklyn painters are not worried about maintaining or achieving a singular image or style. They aren’t so interested in any boundaries of abstraction or figuration. They seem confident to experiment and pursue the energy of painting wherever it leads. Common heroes are Forrest Bess, Tal R, Siena. Nozkowski, Bill Jensen, Al Jensen, Stout, Emma Kunz, also Guston, Polke, and the great Kippenburger…
Tomorrow: Some Links