Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Six Pound Retrospective

{A Look at Painting Today}

I'm usually leery of slick coffee table books on contemporary painting (like the disappointingly faddish Vitamin P), but a few weeks ago while I was in LA I came upon a beautiful Phaidon edition on contemporary painting that actually had some substance, aptly named Painting Today. I was in good company when I saw it because it landed on my doorstep for my birthday. And I can't get enough of it.

My art books are probably what I'm going to try to rescue if our house ever goes up in flames. When my studio flooded in February my first reaction was "OHNOMYBOOKS!" when perhaps I should have been more concerned about my paintings

The opening chapter of the book runs the postwar gamut of art history as a reference and foundation for what's being painted today. Including, above, David Hockney's cool Southern California aesthetic and Willem de Kooning's ground-breaking Woman I. I imagine Hockey has a pretty good sense of humor (the man has Dachshunds, for heaven's sake). But de Kooning? Homeboy had some *issues.*

The rest of the book is broken up into thematic chapters. Above, details from master scribbler Cy Twombly, an artist I've always loved intensely. Below, a detail from a psychological history painting by Neo Rauch, the prolific German painter whose scenes of social malaise and industrial alienation work as somber narratives to the recent economic collapse. Heavy stuff, that Neo Rauch.

And then, somewhere in the chapter on Post-Feminism, I recognized a familiar face painted by a familiar hand. Maureen Gallace, a contemporary New York painter mostly known for her quiet, minimalist landscapes, was a visiting professor my senior year in college and an adviser on my thesis.  She has had an enormous influence on me. Not one for artspeak hyperbole, she must have been amused to be considered Post-Feminist, capital P capital F.

A recent New Yorker article on Ethiopian-American painter Julie Mehretu's installation at Goldman Sachs highlighted the uneasy but symbiotic relationship between the art world and the finance world. I'd never heard of Mehretu before and was fascinated by her articulate take on the experience of the Goldman commission. Below, that very painting, Black City, 120 x 192 inches, which can be enjoyed by dogs as well as by investment bankers.

Happy hump day. If you know an artist or someone who digs contemporary painting and you have $75 to spend on luxuries like this six-pounder, get them this book.


  1. Maybe my cute desert friend will let me borrow it for one day, once she has absorbed it...
    p.s. love the toenails in that last shot.

  2. I HAVE to have this book! Cy Twombly is one of my favorites (right after Basquiat)! Thanks for sharing!! xoxo

  3. There was a Phaidon pop up store last time I was in London and the choice was to walk away entirely empty handed or take every book in the store with! You know how challenging either would be. But since I didn't have a sixteen wheeler with me or a gang of sherpas, I just walked away!

    Read the J. Mehretu story too - v. interesting.

    p.s. imagine being a collier brother and killed by your phaidons. it would go so quick. or precisely, one would! you know the collier bros, right?

  4. Thanks for the tip on this book! I just discovered your blog and it's been a fun ride.

  5. I LOVE Cy Twombly. I remember seeing one of his works in person for the first time in Philadelphia. I wanted to stick my nose against it to see all the details. What a great book!

  6. I like your pieces so much better! Real, organic and full of joy. I think your art mentor was in the same vein, as her piece is the only one that speaks to me. Believe me, I have tried to understand and love these Modern works, but it stops at Cezanne, Matisse and Mary Cassette. Well, and of course, O'Keefe.

  7. favorite de kooning related story:

    which you have probably heard. nonetheless.


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