Before and After the Flood: Two Shows of Jackie Gendel at Jeff Bailey Gallery
Comedy of Manners, October 12 to 27, 2012
Revenge of the Same, January 12 to February 18, 2013
625 West 27th Street, between 11th and 12th Avenues
New York City, (212) 989-0156
Few artists have the opportunity to revise and expand upon a solo exhibition once it has opened to the public. Thanks to Hurricane Sandy this is what happened to Jackie Gendel in two recent, back-to-back solo shows at Jeff Bailey Gallery. Revenge of the Same might be viewed as a risk-taking and optimistic revision of her first show, Comedy of Manners, which was interrupted mid-run by the torrential flooding that hit the western corners of Chelsea. Although, luckily, Gendel’s work remained unscathed by the storm, the interruption offered a chance for Gendel to channel the reconstructive energies of the post-Sandy clean-up into a new series of paintings. At Gendel’s initiative, the second exhibition also included work installed in a new subterranean viewing room opened as a result of the renovations.
Witty, fixated reworking is integral to Gendel’s painting practice: in her second exhibition, for instance, she responded explicitly to the storm by stenciling waves over the lower halves of several paintings. Her paintings depict parades of human figures in a loose, gestural style that recalls the generalized outlines deployed as the initial layer in traditional fat-over-lean oil painting. Gendel subverts simple notions of “unfinished” and “finished” because what is usually the soon-to-be-painted-over underpainting is in her work the final layer.
The predominance of the drawn line conveys a sense of perpetual movement and alludes to an ever-relocating final destination. In this sense, Gendel’s work becomes more about the viewer’s memory associations with certain archetypal scenes from art history and is further complicated by the repetition of a single composition over the course of several paintings. For example, Archers I (2013) alludes to Wassily Kandinsky’s Picture with an Archer (1909), which in turn refers to Russian folk icons. In addition, while both Comedy of Manners (2012) and Twilight of the Idyll (2012) evoke the composition of Édouard Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe, the ripples of art history continue to widen. Manet based his painting on a composition by Raphael that was known to him through an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi, but he changed the gender of the outward looking figure from male to female. Gendel’s paintings share Manet’s artistic liberty with the original image by presenting all the luncheon figures as female, or at least rendered with feminine characteristics.
Of course, one does not necessarily have to be well versed in art history to revel in Gendel’s visual world. Her paintings can also be readily appreciated for their abstract motifs and exuberant palette. In Comedy of Manners, three upright sitting women emerge from enmeshed outlines; a fourth, horizontally placed figure intervenes and appears unaware of the other three. In Twilight of the Idyll, the underlying pastel splatters and brushmarks describe a crepuscular scene atop which four female nudes are arranged. Gendel paints them loosely, incompletely and unselfconsciously.
The mixing and remixing of art historical styles and allusions is a productive model for Gendel. The painted overlay of her surfaces call to mind multiple application windows open on a computer desktop. Colleen Asper aptly characterizes Gendel’s preoccupation with visual simultaneity in her catalog essay by quoting a colleague who paraphrases a line from The Confessions of Saint Augustine in which he wishes that “all the words in a sentence could occur at the same time, and that’s, no doubt, how God thinks.” This statement is a fitting compliment to Gendel’s own meta-references to art history, and vague inclination towards a painterly sublime.
The motif of the figure in Gendel’s context-shifting work has drawn comparisons to such venerable (old and modern) masters as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Pierre Bonnard, Max Beckmann, and Leonardo da Vinci. Her closest ally amongst this roster is perhaps Bonnard, who shares a willingness to allow painting to dictate continual revisions from careful observation. They both essentially consider and reconsider with paint, allowing the surface to accrue its own history of mark making. Not everyone is fan of this meandering, sensitive process, however: Bonnard’s work so irritated Picasso that the latter exclaimed, “That’s not painting, what he does… [It is] a potpourri of indecision.” This was, perhaps a fair assessment from an artist who personally defined painting as “a matter of seizing the power, taking over from nature, not expecting her to supply you with information and good advice.” Jackie Gendel, like Bonnard, opts for a loose approach to nature, one that values contemplation and revision. She also has her own ideas about power and gender, for that matter, and is especially responsive to the looping dialogue that connects the act of painting with each successive wave of art history.