criticismExhibitions
Saturday, November 1st, 2003

Michael St. John


Cynthia Broan Gallery
23 East 73 Street, New York

Michael St. John Untitled 2005 polychromed wood, 23 x 13 x 12 inches  Courtesy Cynthia Broan Gallery

Michael St. John, Untitled 2005 polychromed wood, 23 x 13 x 12 inches Courtesy Cynthia Broan Gallery

In the mid-Nineteenth Century, the French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire published his famous essay, The Painter of Modern Life. He proposed a new model of the artist as an individual who was simultaneously immersed in and detached from the miasma of contemporary urban life. In our time, Baudelaire’s concept is pervasive. It is particularly noticeable among the many artists, whether they are aware of him or not, who make work that has a critical or empathic relationship to our common commercial culture. Michael St. John, a mid-career artist and denizen of midtown Manhattan, is an interesting contemporary manifestation of this formula.

His current show has eight of his own recent works plus 10 contributions by other artist friends. The announcement card consists of a bushy-haired-and-bearded color portrait of him at 19 with the words “I’m a child of divorce. Gimme a break” emblazoned across it, a verbal appropriation from a T-shirt, most likely. He moved to NYC in the very early seventies where he hung out, went to galleries and clubs and took a few art courses. He spent his years “just observing” he states, and his work surfaced in the gallery system when he was older than many of his contemporaries. This is relevant to Baudelaire’s model artist, who desired anonymity, though he was a “Man of the World” who derived his artistic experiences outside of the academy. St. John has become an important teacher and independent curator, but he has not been fresh-squeezed from the Yale-Columbia-UCLA fine arts graduate program pipeline.

Michael St. John A Perfect World, Just Do It 2002-2004 oil, acrylic, polymers, crackle medium, and atlason canvas, 66 x 72 inches Courtesy Cynthia Broan Gallery

Michael St. John, A Perfect World, Just Do It 2002-2004 oil, acrylic, polymers, crackle medium, and atlason canvas, 66 x 72 inches Courtesy Cynthia Broan Gallery

Baudelaire’s ideal artist was a flaneur or stroller, and most of St John’s work recreates a stroll through his local neighborhood, Times Square, which serves him well as an intense physical duplication of our contemporary environment of televised and virtual signage and display. The paintings are festooned, to the point of being clogged, with imagery from advertising, pornography, photojournalism and the artist’s personal history. To St. John, all these worlds are homogeneous. Most of his works contain real objects as well, and the show also has some of his sculptures, which are derived from everything from sneaker logos to imagery from recently famous paintings.

The work performs a soulful, delirious recapitulation of the constant forced imagery, the manipulations by every product and opinion vying for one’s attention, the restless false eagerness of mass media that accompanies what intimacy is available in our day-to day existence. Baudelaire’s flaneur was an empathetic character who loved crowds, and it follows that St. John would mount other works among his own, as if to indicate that he sees art-making as a social activity: his work communicates alongside other works doing the same. In his life as well as his art, St. John appears to hit all the marks, at least according to one important standard of measurement.


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One Response to Michael St. John

  1. Babs says:

    Wonderful work. Knew him and his work in the 80′s. Where can I see his work now?

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