1 December 2014
(Amy Feldman, Stanley Whitney, Bernard Piffaretti, Laura Owens, Michael Krebber, Matt Connors, Rebecca Morris, Patricia Treib, Lori Ellison, Franklin Evans)
How is it that someone who dreamed of “an art of balance, of purity, of serenity, devoid of troubling and depressing subject matter” became a source of relentless innovation and provided a map for the deconstruction (with Supports/Surfaces, Pattern & Decoration and artists as diverse as Simon Hantaï, Al Loving and Jessica Stockholder) of the very medium through which he hoped to achieve serenity? French scholar Rémi Labrusse has described Matisse’s “radical decoration” as the result of his staged confrontation between Western mimesis and Eastern decoration. Clement Greenberg, who dreamed of an avant-garde pastoral, attributed Matisse’s impact to “the paint, the disinterested paint.”
Over the last year or so a lot of the painting I’ve been most struck by has pursued some kind of “radical decoration,” engaged with “disinterested paint” or both. In some cases (Lori Ellison, Franklin Evans), Matisse has clearly been on the artist’s mind, in others there is no explicit referencing but plenty of affinities. Then, there is the case of Michael Krebber, whose desultory marks could be read as a cruel parody of Matissean nonchalance. As I suggested some years ago in my articles on provisionality in painting, the casual touch of much contemporary art recuperates the economy of gesture pioneered by Matisse, but there are other paths that connect his work to the present, exemplified here by Evans’s multi-medium installation at Ameringer McEnery Yohe earlier this year in which the legacy of Matisse (and a lot else) was filtered through an array of idiosyncratic information systems.