Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Turner Prize

Dear Blog,

It's me, Celine. Yesterday we went to the 2010 Turner prize exhibition at the British Museum. The finalists were Dexter Dalwood (painter), The Otolith Group (video), Angela De La Cruz (painter/sculptor), and Susan Philipsz (sound installation). I'll say upfront that I couldn't stay awake for the Otolith Group's 45 minute video-- after a red-eye flight to London, the dark lights and soft audio were lulling me to sleep. I only lasted about 15 minutes, not enough to properly judge their exhibit.

Dezter Dalwood's paintings were interesting-- he painted in a style that consciously affected the style of collage, creating depth and then contradicting his efforts with flat, bold expanses of paint that look as if they came from a magazine (or a Russian propoganda leaflet).
Dexter Dalwood, Greenham Common, 2008.

Each painting is a pastiche; not only of artwork found in most art history textbooks, but of important, albeit obscure, moments in history. Greenham Common, in its setting, seems to reference Manet's Dejeuner Sur L'herbe. The white expanse bounded by a gestural line seen in the lower left seems to suggest a drooping arm- the most direct reference to the absence of human subjects in the body of work presented at the Tate. The work's title, Greenham Common, was the name of a defunct U.S. military airfield located in England, opened in the 1930's and closed at the end of the cold war. Dalwood's paintings are highly symbolic, and draw on the rich history of painting to provide abstracted portraits of specific people and places.

Dexter Dalwood, Borroughs in Tangiers, 2005

Although his painting has the bold brushwork and bright color scheme associated with early abstract painting (think fauvism and surrealism) he is committed to drawing deeply from the well of history in the creation of the above domestic scene. Despite the painting's modest size (about 3'x3') Dalwood has managed to cram over five hundred years of art history into it's frame. In the upper left corner, Botticelli's Birth of Venus is shown hanging on the bedroom wall. Around it, the characteristic scribbling and stabbing strokes of Cy Twombly festoon the walls, with a bedspread whose patterning is reminiscent of Gaugin's work. We, the viewers, peer into this scene as if we have just opened a door onto a bedroom that has been violently, even haphazzardly decorated-by a subject who is nowhere to be found.

Angela De La Cruz's wall tag described her work as "sculpture that speaks the language of painting". I found this an apt description, if ultimately falling short of the work's force. De La Cruz paints canvases with slick, bright colors reminiscent of road signs, and mounts them on fractured frames. The effect of such an action is an deflated painting that curiously undermines the medium of which it speaks. In some cases, the canvases are peeling away from their frames, detaching themselves from the history that gives them authority. In others, they flop limply like a dying animal, held upright by steel brackets that act as prosthetic devices. While one could easily criticize the timliness of this work (De La Cruz's work bears a striking similarity to Robert Morris' limp, rectangular sections of industrial felt, first exhibited in the late 196os) it is De La Cruz's remarkable attention to detail and subtle additions to her historical precedents that make this work so poignant. Like Dalwood, she is fully aware of painting's history, and makes reference to this knowledge in her work. Unlike Dalwood, De La Cruz simultaneously undermines and supports her medium in a deliciously tongue-in-cheek commentary on the state of contemporary art. A feminist interpretation of this work provides further fruitful territory; De La Cruz engages in the emasculation of painting- violently breaking the frame and allowing the fabric to flow freely, draping, sagging, and taking on sculptural form. She frees her colorfield paintings from their constraints, simultaneously denying the frame's function and accepting the materiality of the frame as a sculptural element.

Angela De La Cruz, Clutter XXL, 2008

Angela De La Cruz, Clutter I, 2003

1 comment:

  1. de la cruz...with the collapse of the monumental canvas, they are surprisingly feminine. like dress forms and table cloths.