Joanne Greenbaum: Hollywood Squares, Elliott Green: Personified Abstraction


D’amelio Terras, September 10 - October 31

Joanne Greenbaum, "Untitled (Hollywood Squares #4)," 2009, oil and acrylic on canvas, 80 × 78 inches 203.2 × 198.1 cm, Courtesy of the artist and D’Amelio Terras, New York.

“Someone’s having fun around here,” said a visitor to D’amelio Terras gallery the other day, referring to the large paintings on exhibit by Joanne Greenbaum. The man behind the counter agreed that the paintings were “colorful” and tried for some time to explain the deeper reverberations of the work, but I observed that my friend, the art critic, was not having any, and soon left.

While perhaps not a statement of acute art-historical analysis, the visitor’s comment reflected two interesting points, the first being a suspicion among a lot of Americans outside the art world towards the dry conceptualism and politicism that has dominated the scene for the last few decades. A series of documentarist photos of abandoned factories on the Prussian countryside is just not as fun on its face as a juicy nude or a sailboat with seagulls circling its mast.

The second half of his observation points to Greenbaum’s process as very much revealed on the surface of her paintings, although I can’t say her works represent pure fun so much as a kind of unmoored looniness. The artist seems convincingly to be going a little insane as she paints. Some of her rickety shapes seem to refer to occult symbols, Native American geometric motifs, plans for Utopian cities, or the shape of “The Matrix” in which we all unconsciously live. Her colors are so fluorescent, the detail so poured on, that she seems to be losing control of what she’s doing. Extremely busy backgrounds are often partially painted over, sketched over, or blotted out. There is never any space devoid of imagery on her canvases.

Elliott Green, "Lemmonny Soap," 2009, oil on linen, 18 × 24 inches 45.7 × 61 cm, Courtesy of the artist and D’Amelio Terras, New York

For all their exuberance, the paintings are often aggressively awkward, with passages that look as if the artist got frustrated and began to smear the painting with some fleshy color made of rubbing her whole palette together. After that, you imagine, she either took a break for lunch or used the remaining pigment for body makeup. It’s never quite clear how much of these paintings are formally decided, and how much is just out of a personal impulse that too much is never enough. Their almost mysterious too-muchness is very intriguing.

Another thing I found very interesting about this show is the conversation held between Greenbaum and the artist occupying the smaller room, Elliott Green, who is also unafraid of color and very playful in his sense of composition. Otherwise, they are completely different painters. These smaller pieces by Green reminded me of the beautiful Himalayan paintings on display at the Rubin Museum of Art, their ravishing jewel colors occupying discrete areas within the picture plane, so that there seem to be various fields of activity. His brushstrokes are often modelled with colors that are not completely mixed, giving form to the biomorphic shapes the press release mentions, and reminding me of a more abstract, less existential Francis Bacon. They are extremely sensual paintings, which fixate with their discombobulating beauty—a quality that reminded me of the worshipful tranquility of Buddhist painting.

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