Marianne Boesky Gallery
535 W 22 Street, New York
March 23 – April 23, 2005
Rachel Feinstein’s exhibition is made up of paintings executed on oval mirrors, pastel drawings under glass in large platinum-colored frames and sculptures made from wood or from polyurethane. A long wall was built to accommodate the latter sculpture, which nudges the exhibition partially towards the state of an ensemble. The painted images, of which half a dozen or so are mounted on the walls around the main space, all depict a wizened crone attired in dress appropriate to some aristocratic salon of the ancien regime . This figure holds various props, such as a furry pet in one image or a parasol in the other, in her unusually large, masculine-looking hands. The pastel drawings in the smaller room appear to be studies for these paintings.
In the literature accompanying the exhibition there is a photograph of the artist scowling at the camera. Feinstein made herself up to look like a grotesquely ugly old woman, which points up the underlying narrative of the images on display as being like the Picture of Dorian Gray. (The press release makes reference to ‘The Picture of Rachel Feinstein”).
Feinstein is making pictures and in one case a self-portrait as a ravaged dowager. The artist is now young, beautiful and has a glamorous life. It’s out of character for Feinstein to directly provoke. What has been most pleasing about her work is its formal qualities. Feinstein’s work distinguishes itself from that of her peers Currin and Yuskavage in its lack of insistence. Where most neo-grotesque figurative work strains to reach its affect to the point of pandering, Feinstein appears comfortable to engage her rococo-meets-arte-povera quasi-figuration as a language to be examined at one’s ease. Feinstein’s best quality is her blitheness, she pleases herself first, the viewer second.
Feinstein acknowledges the late Pino Pascali of the arte-povera group as an influence. This great, largely unknown artist died in 1967 after producing a body of work that included realistic, painted wood replicas of slightly below scale military equipment, semi-abstract architectural sculptures made from steel wool pads and abstract sculptures of cloth stretched over wire armatures. It is clear that this license to traverse materials and idioms has freed up Feinstein to make her own forays into unknown territories that exist between conventional categories.
Feinstein’s three-dimensional work jumps from two freestanding rosewood-stained plywood sculptures in the front room to the more fully developed enameled hinged sculpture in the smaller gallery. The erected wall has an arched opening in which rests a partially realized, lumpy mound of vague figuration. Here, as in every work there, is dialogue between installation, material and depiction.
The paintings on mirror are executed with an array of painting marks: swipes, dots and dashes of wet on wet and wet on dry brushstrokes. Feinstein limits her colors to pasty beiges, whites, browns and some blue. It may mean something that the figurative paintings are executed on mirrors, the preferred surfaces for doing cocaine. The whole show is an oddly likeable pseudo-salon.