Endless Love: Curated by Mark Greenwold
DC Moore Gallery until February 7
724 Fifth Avenue at 57th Street, 212-247-2111
A version of this article first appeared in the New York Sun, February 5, 2004.
Mark Greenwold has a problem. Actually, judging by his bizarre symbolist pictures, he has a few. But from a career perspective, his problem is what to put in his exhibitions. A painting apparently takes him at least a year to complete, and sometimes as long as four. At such a rate, his lifetime retrospective might end up being his first regular show.
One solution – an effective means to dramatize the adagio intensity of his production – is to stage a one-picture show, which is what his then new dealer did for him in 2002. “You must change your life” (2002), a 16-by-22-inch panel whose title presumably came from the last line of Rilke’s sonnet “Torso of an Archaic Apollo,” was given one small side gallery while male wet dream academic nudes by the late Paul Cadmus filled the rest of DC Moore’s midtown premises. Cadmus and Mr. Greenwold made an odd couple: It was as if the almost gothic mannerism of the tortuous, psychologically obsessive, narcissistic Mr. Greenwold was knowingly mocking the slick, patrician proficiency of the “gay lord” of conservative American realism.
This time around, Mr. Greenwold has opted for another exhibition strategy, curating a group show that features his latest piece in the company of artists who exemplify a principle at stake in his own work. He did this once before, in “The Risk of Existence,” his 1998 parting show at the Phyllis Kind Gallery in SoHo. But “Endless Love” creates more of a technical than an existential community. The selection brings together artists of diverse style, tendency, and touch who are united by their penchant to ponder.
Mr. Greenwold’s own new work, “The Need to Understand” (2002-03), literally puts three peers into his allegory: Hovering over the heads of the human protagonists (two women and, as ever, the artist himself, this time wearing the same dress as one of the women) are what read like haloes or thought bubbles. Each one is made up in a recognizable trademark device of a fellow painter. The woman entering from the back corridor has Lucas Samaras rays of light emanating from her cranium; the woman in the duplicated dress has a James Siena puzzle oozing from her Medusa-like hairdo; and Mr. Greenwold himself seems to be thinking in the wobbly lozenges of a Chuck Close grid.
Mr. Greenwold was famously the subject of Mr. Close’s “Mark” paintings and prints, based on a gormless 1970s photograph, while Mr. Close has in turn been depicted with equal unflattery in a number of Greenwolds. (For whatever it might signify, Mr. Siena and Mr. Samaras have also been depicted by Mr. Close.) Mr. Siena is the only of one of the three shown in his own right in “Endless Love.”
There, he is given pride of place on the wall where Mr. Greenwold himself hangs, along with ceramicist Ken Price and, sandwiching the Greenwold, Thomas Nozkowski and David Brody. By placing himself in this abstract power corner, Mr. Greenwold has ingeniously cosetted his own hyper-realist style: With no competing mimesis in proximity, the eye has its arm twisted – so to speak – into recognizing the abstract element of so overtly representational a painting.
For what makes Mr. Greenwold so slow a producer – and at the same time entices slow viewing of his work – is the mind-boggling minisculism of his painterly touch. At first sight, he seems to be the kind of painter who is rendering each hair of the cat and mouse that gracefully co-habit the foreground of the picture, not to mention each grain of the parquet of the library in the distance. But on closer inspection, a compulsion to pixilate is revealed at an even deeper level, in tiny, pinpoint, feathery strokes of complementary color. The result isn’t the pearly, opaque finish you might expect from hyperrealism but its opposite – an almost impressionistic fuzz: A Renoir painted under a microscope.
In “Endless Love,” Mr. Greenwold has created a salon of the self-absorbed. Within this group, there is more divergence than commonality, as he notes in a curatorial statement. While for some, he writes, labor-intensity is “compulsiveness bordering on pathology,” for others it is “merely the systematic intensity and dailiness of the professional, applying his or her craft in much the same manner as a good root-canal specialist.” Modernism, Mr. Greenwold argues, has made the craft element in art taboo, just as, correspondingly, it has made spontaneity a fetish.
This manifesto show presents a compelling case for compulsion: The artists gathered may lose themselves in craft, but the good ones (and those are the majority) find their vision in the same place.
Charles LeDray, for instance, makes exquisitely nutty miniature clothing – in “Hole” (1998), a punctured jacket, shirt, and tie hang on a minutely fabricated hanger and hook. Xenobia Bailey creates vaguely tribal-looking, overlapping spirals of crocheted yarn build up to psychedelic patterns. In both cases, a sense of the marginal that comes with slow, technically absorbing activity folds back into the meanings of the work.
Some artists aren’t such slow producers but seem enlisted for moral support. Alexi Worth is represented by a painting from his series charting the allegorical wanderings of an artworld nebbish; Mr. Worth’s alterego could be the cousin of Mr. Greenwold’s projected self. Like Mr. Worth, Hilary Harkness achieves intensity through knowing naffness, her cramped illustrational rendering sealed in by a coppery smoothness that recalls the German mannerist Adam Elsheimer.
For many artists in “Endless Love”, obsessive pattern-making or craft leads to a kind of negation of self, a mystical otherworldliness. Mr. Greenwold’s peculiarity is to arrive at a similar place himself despite-or who knows, maybe because of-so gross an involvement with his own psyche. Equally “anal” in what he depicts, and how, his painting represents a kind of tantric exorcism.