Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert Inc.
524 W 19, 2nd fl
NY, NY 10011
closes April 15, 2004
Ann Craven Hello Hello Hello 2004
oil on canvas, 108 x 72 inches each
Courtesy Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, Inc.
Ann Craven's paintings
at Gasser and Grunert are confounding. In terms of subject matter, they
couldn't be more straightforward - deer in fields and birds on branches.
One painting, one animal for the most part, all painted on monumental
scale in saccharine colors. What makes them confounding, is that they
are intentionally formulaic. If you know your next painting will look
just like your last one, why paint it?
honed style draws heavily on contemporary German painting, particularly
the work of its foremost representative, Gerhard Richter. Craven wipes
her backgrounds, and allows her brushwork to show in the painting of
the animals. Blemish free background, visible mark in the fore, just
like a Richter abstraction. Unlike Richter, however, Craven is not interested
in deconstructing how a painting is made. Instead, like Jeff Koons,
Craven focuses on the mechanism of mechanical reproduction and its relationship
to superficial beauty, i.e. kitsch. Or so it seems, judging from the
fact that she literally paints the same painting multiple times as in
"Deer" and "Deer in Daises" in Gasser and Grunert's
first small room, and "Hello, Hello, Hello" in the rear.
The latter painting,
a monumental triptych, illustrates most clearly the conundrum of Craven's
work. The three long vertical panels repeat the image of a red-tailed
gray parrot stretching its wings urgently. On the gray ground behind
it, beautifully painted, hang purple flowers. The painting of the bird
is lustrous, wet in wet scalloping feathers building to the orange eye
of the sideways parrot glance. The handling here seems impassioned yet
we know it can't be because it's copied as conscientiously as possible
in each painting. Passion in painting has to do with inspired risk and
invention. A painter intent on such passion seeks not simply to make
a painting but to have an original experience in the making of it, to
make a discovery. Craven gives us this kind of passion in the parrot
and then throws it to the birds by repeating it in formula.
is not Craven's concern. Instead, she presents a stubborn lack of it.
Craven's assembly line parrot paintings fall like the monotonous hellos
of the parrot itself, all in service of a visual pun: three parrots,
three hellos. Why paint then? She could easily make her point about
dehumanizing mass production in another medium. Instead, she uses an
inherently sensuous medium presumably to underscore her point by desensitizing
it. Painting, by virtue of its uniqueness, draws attention to the lack
thereof in so many human endeavors. The greater the apparent uniqueness,
the keener the sense of its absence elsewhere. Like cultural theory,
Craven's work functions in the opposite sense, taking you analytically
step by step along the path mass culture travels. It offers virtuosity,
ambition and artifice in service of this end, but remains obstinately
contradictory as painting.
Benjamin La Rocco
is a painter and writer living in Brooklyn