The Body in Question
Nov 30 - Dec 22 2021
- 13 days left
The Painting Center is pleased to present The Body in Question, a group exhibition curated by painter Ophir Agassi and critic Karen Wilkin running from November 30 - December 22, 2021. The artists in The Body in Question include William Bailey, Matt Blackwell, Jeremy Long, Graham Nickson, Janice Nowinski, Rachel Rickert, Enrico Riley, Kyle Staver, Clintel Steed and Alun Williams.
The human figure has long been a compelling subject for painters and sculptors. At times in the history of Western art, the ability of trained artists was measured by how convincingly they were able to render the human form. Modernism’s rebellion rejected not only naturalism and idealization in referring to the body, but also the high value placed on the figure itself. The battle between abstraction and the idealized human figure proved to be an influential time in art history favoring a move toward non-objective art. It wasn’t until Neo-Expressionism that the dominance of abstract art subsided. Since then, not only has figurative art been on the rise it has become the dominating trend. Many artists have returned to the figure in highly personal, even idiosyncratic ways, without rejecting the freedom of exploration, improvisation, and invention offered by Modernism.
This exhibition asks “Why paint the figure today?” The ten artists featured in The Body in Question answer this question through the lens of different generations and circumstances. Although stylistically diverse, they all share a belief in the history of art as a continuum, in the eloquence of the recognizable image, and in the expressive potency of color. To varying degrees, they reveal the history of the painting’s making and, often, celebrate the physicality of paint and the act of applying it to a surface. Each artist has a distinct point of view of what place the human figure holds in Contemporary Art.
Jeremy Long and Rachel Rickert are excited by the challenge of translating intense perception of everyday, contemporary actuality into the fiction of paint on a flat surface, using seemingly insignificant quotidian happenings as starting points for expressive invention. William Bailey’s and Graham Nickson’s work is similarly rooted in real experience, but translates that experience into near-abstract constructions that evoke specific places, enacted by figures who at once refer to the familiar present and the art of the past. Enrico Riley draws on specific practices and events, most recently the vernacular performance of music, filtering them through his own history and his knowledge of the history of art. Matthew Blackwell and Janice Nowinski allude freely to the figure, constructing ambiguous narratives enlivened by the tension between the fact of paint and the will of the artist, walking a tightrope between apparent artlessness and sophistication, with references, now oblique, now specific, to a variety of sources. Kyle Staver confronts history painting’s traditional subject matter, staging myths from a highly individual, feminist-inflected, utterly contemporary viewpoint. Clintel Steed conjures up suggestions of past and present from dense pigment that threatens to subsume his images. Alun Williams offers us surrogate characters that simultaneously affirm and make us question the significance of the figure both now and throughout the history of art.
All ten artists use figurative and human forms to represent an intellectual position; as symbols of a social or political view; or as a personal expression that can only be understood with the presence of the figure in the picture. While we are engaged by the formal elements in their work and by the evidence of their intelligence and accomplishment, we are transported into the picture and understand these figures as expressions of the human experience. This work not only bears witness to the continued relevance of the figure, formally and conceptually, but it also raises engaging questions about present and future.