On ViewGreene Naftali
November 4, 2022–January 14, 2023
Conceptual-modernist painter Jacqueline Humphries is actively securing her place in contemporary art history, and she is doing so in a particularly literal way, making unabashed reference to those who came before her and to those working more or less alongside her.
She actively alludes to Jackson Pollock in a stunning huge spattered and gestural canvas with excited streaks of color passing through, and to Barnett Newman in a still, blue monochrome painting with a faded panel on the left. And then she takes on herself, with the stenciled inventory numbers of her paintings noted in black paint. She guides us through the history of her process, situating herself in time and place on the canvas; she converts peg-like holes into 3D works with paint squishing through the template perforations rendering her painting sculptural, rather like abstract trompe l’oeil. And she documents her relationship to the modernism of Lucio Fontana with a bright yellow streak/slash and then teases us with splotches of neo-Geo style painting with scraped away paint exposing material depth. Humphries’s interventions are never straight appropriations; rather they tend to be inventive homages.
The artist inevitably takes her jabs at consumerism and capitalism through the huge windows at the gallery entrance, looking out onto the courtyard. Poised as if behind the scenes and about to be installed in a display window á la Rauschenberg is a huge five-paneled work marked with flecks of paint based on computer-generated images of white noise, we learn from the press release. But then, isn’t white noise invisible? Scribbled logo-style on the back of the canvases we see from inside the gallery is the brand name Neiman Marcus—the now-defunct luxury department store that went bankrupt, felled in large part by the pandemic. Are we now to look on the splendor that was with nostalgia? Are the memories of its enticements embedded in painterly gestures and accumulations, or are we to realize from the density of the encrypted abstract imagery that we’ll only have room in our minds for detritus?
Humphries has been taking a slightly unsettling route into the technological moment, where she has found a suitable site for her investigations. She has expanded on her subtly built impastoed paintings of the 1980s and ’90s, harboring gestures and color intonations. In these new paintings, she has added depth through layers of grayish-painted scrims that, seemingly, on close inspection, harvest emoticons, emojis, and scary, black-limned faces watching us as we investigate them. They emerge ever so slowly and seem to catch our eyes in the manner of the Mona Lisa as we pass by. Humphries successfully and almost magically reproduces the digital screen in paint, rendering the insubstantial material. This new screen is the inevitable canvas of the future, harboring shifting pentimenti. They might be seen as to be the equivalent of a memento mori, conjuring visions of the moody, introspective Ross Bleckner paintings of the 1980s.
Humphries invited Rachel Harrison to exhibit a work, The Metaverse (2022), and in so doing, gives a hint of the in-between place in space that she tries to lay claim to: the multiverse in the metaverse, where she stands. The Harrison figure appears stranded in mid-reality reaching out shakily to connect and clarify her position. Where Harrison creates mashups of life and art through our cultural refuse, Humphries weaves together the strands of her connections with her predecessors, contemporaries, and her imagination.
Together, these new paintings dare to be beautiful, at a time when beauty continues to be viewed with suspicion. But these works, with their curtains of sheer color raining down on them have an emotional resonance, made with fluorescent paints that reflect and lure us into the visual depths of Humphries’s painterly autobiography.