Monday, December 10, 2007

Wendy White

High Roller, 2003, acrylic on canvas, 12" x 12"

While Wendy’s work has evolved significantly since the paintings from 2002-2003, they have the same directness and playfulness that exists in her other more object-oriented works. High Roller is an especially appropriate lead-in to works like Hi-fibre of 2007 where she begins to use a more distinct, pared down method of paint application and presentation.

In response to the recent show at the New Museum, I thought it would be nice to discuss it with an artist whose work could be seen in a related vein. Check her website for more images. See below for a recent email interview...

JL: In light of the “Unmonumental” show at the New Museum, I was wondering if we could start by talking a bit about their conception of sculpture today…they seem to see assemblage as a new and radical technique in sculpture...would you agree with that assessment? Isn't there something else going on in many of these works?

WW: Well, I guess the big question is whether that kind of sculpture is over now. The sad thing is that once there’s a big museum show, it’s kind of over. The heavy-hitters have been identified, and their successors have been named. For me, Lambie is miscast in this exhibition while Genzken & Harrison are the ringleaders and Matthew Monahan is the standout.

JL: I can see marking Genzken and Harrison as the headliners, but just as with Jim Lambie, I’m not sure that the rest are a cohesive group of artists with similar interests.

WW: Not just headliners, but the real ringleaders of this kind of work. But I agree with you. The curators seem to be saying that assemblage best represents the zany world we live in now. But how is Monahan or Lambie "unmonumental?" They seem to be saying it's just by choice of non-art materials and a lack of precious craftsmanship. Doesn't really add up unless you evaluate the work solely on aesthetics. With Genzken you really see a manic what-the-fuck-is-going-on-with-the-world urgency - but with the others? Nothing all that political or anything acting as social commentary stood out to me. It's all art about art. Not that that’s bad.

JL: There also seems to be a fixation with placing works away from the wall, as if to define it as “Sculpture” in the most academic sense. Are they insinuating that a dominant characteristic of current sculpture is that they are to be seen in the round?

WW: I'm not sure why everything is just on the floor. I thought it made the space seem really cramped and tough to get your bearings in. Maybe they think sculpture viewed in the round that doesn't fit the "sculpture/pedestal" stereotype is more "unmonumental" than anything that might need the wall for support. Or maybe they didn’t want to mess up the new drywall.

JL: Yeah, while I can see how the tight placement supports the thesis of the unmonumental as a group, the survey aspect is compromised. I thought Nate Lowman and Urs Fischer added an element of humor that is otherwise lacking, but I would have liked to see them with a little more space. Is this arrangement at all detrimental to the work itself?

WW: I thought the show was over installed and that some of the best work suffers because of it. The one cool thing is that having so much big sculpture in the galleries forces you to walk in and out of it, seeing it from all the angles.

Smatter, 2002, acrylic on canvas, 12" x 12"

JL: As an artist who works with found images in various adaptations, could you talk a little about your process of choosing these elements? Has the introduction of 'non-art’ materials allowed you to do or say something that might have been limited in painting?

WW: For me, using found stuff - images, objects, etc (which I'm not doing so much anymore except for sporting equipment) - adds a synthetic/consumerist element or variable. It's like, here's my world of marks and squishes and drags, and here's how a manufactured object adds to it’s story, or steals from it, depending on the imposed context. They're like mirrors. Of course it’s more specific than that, but that’s the basic idea.

JL: What role did your older works play in getting you where you are today...how would you describe you're movement into and away from the use of sculptural/combined parts throughout the years?

WW: These are all from 2002-2003. I was in grad school at Rutgers. I had waited 10 years since undergrad to go back to school, and during that time I did mostly sculpture and installation. I started trying to paint seriously around 1998 and had my first show of paintings in 2000. In these paintings I'm still finding out how attached to images I am. It turned out that I was hanging onto representation mainly because of my three-dimensional work - because of an objectness and physicality that I felt I couldn’t achieve in painting. But the interest in images themselves was waning. I knew how to use metaphors and was getting bored with them, and the nuances of abstract painting had begun to fascinate me. I wanted to combine marks, splotches, and sprays in a sculptural way - to make constructed paintings that didn't rely on imagery. To me it's a much more visceral and unexpected way to work.

So these are the last few paintings that have remnants of images -- a face, a pile of wood. They are kind of sad to me, with their eyes peering out. It’s like they're saying "don't you need me anymore?" And I’m scratching them out and saying, “No!”

JL: Did your interest lie in disrupting the interaction between painting and sculpture, floor and wall, or is it more about the authenticity of what is presented?

WW: I make sculpture to remind myself of the physicality of paint, it's weight and gravity, and it’s ability to function as a construction material. Though I use both the wall and floor I’ve never really been obsessed with the authenticity of either discipline. In 2004-5 I made a lot of assemblages that were pedestals with or without "sculptures" on top. In many of them the pedestal was the sculpture. I also made wall sculptures that were essentially paintings with three-dimensional accoutrements. I guess those could be considered disruptions, but I’ve never really acknowledged any rules so it just seems natural.


Split Track, 2002, acrylic on canvas, 30" x 30"

JL: For me, looking at the two works from 2002, there is lingering sense that they are somewhat “finished” or “complete”. By contrast, the new works have an awkward and elusive presence, but they are also playful…

WW: Do you think it's the "imagery" in the 2002 paintings that makes them seem more complete? I think there's an incompleteness to abstract paintings when they're free from the grid or another kind of imposed structure. I felt that giving up images was also giving up the need to finish things, at least in any sort of traditional or learned way. The paintings I like best now are the ones that clearly defy any sense of ordinary completeness or follow-through. They are open sentences rather than quotations.

JL: In the new works, you have created a friction between the idea of the precious art object and the easily replaceable sports equipment. Is this simply a result of your paring down the use of preexisting images/materials? How have they then departed from their original intent?


Hi-Fibre, 2007, acrylic and spray paint on two canvases, metal, foam
104 x 40 ½ inches

WW: There's an inherent juxtaposition between something that you make with your hands and something that you buy pre-made, and you can see it a mile away. I don't see either my paintings or the sports equipment as precious. I use acrylics and spray paints rather than oils. I've never wanted to be bogged down by archival longevity, plus it would be so hypocritical considering my interests. But yes, I've definitely pared down in the last couple years. I found a combination that feels right without having to make a lot of versions with different materials playing the same role.

I think whenever you combine objects that have preexisting connotations, you impose a new context - even if the individual language of each element is really strong. I hope that when people look at my new work, they associate the energy of an athletic event - the kind that is secretly so rewarding but is impossible to describe to anyone - with the energy exerted during the creative process… the physicality is represented three-dimensionally, yet it’s static, and the intellectual energy of painting is in constant flux.

4 comments:

  1. ProfessorTomatoDecember 12, 2007

    jl - terrific work.
    ww's new work for me is about knowing what to put where and being economical about what it takes to make a painting. And it packs a lot more fun surprises than her older work. She no longer seems to be in the Guston-y, slogging through the paint to earn the image thing. Instead, she's smarter about going for it.

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  2. thanks professor tomato, that's a great way to put it. i see what you are saying, they seem to succeed because of that deliberateness, makes them more engaging (though I like the Guston-esques).

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  3. much better timing in the new ones. I do like these though. They seem honest and slower moving than newer work.

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  4. professortomatoDecember 13, 2007

    Slower moving things are always more honest.

    can I say hooray for the return of the New Museum? The old one was so great and this one seems like it should be just awkward enough to retain an edge. I wish they changed shows every two weeks.

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