Ruptures at hoffman lachance contemporary

Like the greater international art web, St. Louis is made up of many different art worlds. However, after two years living here it still surprises me how separate these worlds can be. The nexus of one such community is the artist-run space hoffman lachance contemporary in Maplewood. With a solid mix of gallery regulars and occasional out-of-towners, this somewhat isolated venue certainly deserves more visits than this South City dweller manages to make.

That said, if I hadn’t already been familiar with Melissa Oresky’s work, I might not have made it past the exhibition statement for hoffman lachance’s current exhibition, Ruptures, and out to the opening. Luckily, gallery artist Michael Wille’s curatorial decisions exceed his ability to write about them. While the exhibition statement makes vague observations about “paintings that are similarly engaged in what the image is about,” the exhibition pulls together a thoughtful range of abstract painting (a staple at the gallery) from here to Brooklyn and into Canada.With some exceptions, many of these eleven artists are about ten years out from their graduate education. Not coincidentally perhaps, on quick examination, these nineteen smallish works might easily be dismissed as derivative variations on the work of influential painters popular at that moment. Referencing Vitamin P (the seminal Phaidon painting canon circa 2002), one can easily observe that Linnea Paskow’s visceral brushwork owes a lot to Cecily Brown, Jeffrey Cortland Jones’s subtle layered white enamel on clear plastic panels mirrors the unassuming Tomma Abts, Michael Perrone channels through Thomas Scheibitz the analytical passion of early Modern Germans, etc., etc. (Which also brings to mind the question: Where are half the people in Vitamin P now?) But then one must ask: Is ‘newness’ an inherently desirable trait? As Barry Schwabsky states in this catalog, “We are too quick to affect the typical blasé attitude of a cosmopolitan inspecting the efforts of a provincial: very nice, but it has all been done before…” Is it not significant that these artists are asking questions of abstract painting and then producing a large range of responses? Or at least worth further consideration? “Perhaps [not],” Schwabsky explains, “or perhaps only when one accepts art’s gift of openness and painting’s invitation to direct experience.” From this perspective, one can look at each of these artists’ works as a proposition, narrowly asked…and find inspiration to consider them anew. Points to ponder can certainly be found between the hard-edge masked forms on Michael Wille’s Piles No. 3 and the colorful messy globs accumulated at its sides, in Gianna Commito’s Cartesian space (seen here in Braid), and in Trew Schriefer’s gaudy choice of colors and fondness for glitter.

While Ruptures benefits from the presentation of one or two propositions from each artist at a relatively consistent scale and form, some of the individual paintings falter as inferior examples of the artist’s work. John Kissick’s 2 Studies for a painting of an abstract painting (No. 1) and (No. 2) are just that, flat stand-ins for his normal roster of larger works that have much more depth and energy. Melissa Oresky’s Hedge and Yellow Cluster also read as studies for her larger paintings, which have recently benefited from the unusual colors she paints the walls she hangs them on. What is most notably missing, however, is Thomas Vance’s self-described “sculptural” work. These plant, rock and geometric paper forms with wooden support structures have as much, if not more, to do with the possibilities of painting, as his architecturally inspired “drawings” (such as Draft: Elevation). This much-needed addition would have broadened the range of approaches to abstraction in the exhibition and acknowledged a history that includes important painters like Franz Ackerman and Matthew Ritchie.

While many artists may ask valuable questions of Ruptures, this exhibition is worth the gas money for any young painter exploring the medium’s ‘expanded field’ and looking for a inspirational shot of Vitamin P.

Ruptures is on view at hoffman lachance contemporary, in St. Louis, MO through May 28, 2011.
Images courtesy of hoffman lachance contemporary.

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  1. david rhodes

    Nothing seminal about VP…even if Barry’s intro is not bad. Images are not as directly connected as they sometimes appear because of the reach of the net..

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