Super Tuesday

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Leonard Reibstein, Great Again, 2016.

While the country nervously awaits the results of a Super Tuesday that can propel Donald Trump to the top of the GOP pack, many rational people are bewildered about how such an unlikely event has become a reality.

Trump’s campaign antics are directly aimed at the Americans who’ve long been marginalized due to their radical and hateful views. With David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan endorsing Trump, and given Trumps unwillingness to disavow the hatemonger’s praise; it is evident that Trump knows that his demographic includes anti-Semitic, racist, and xenophobic individuals. Worse yet, he has been embracing them all along.

Perhaps there is no more resounding work of art to express the madness and fear of a nation in crisis than Leonard Reibstein’s witty, yet gravely serious painting Great Again (2016). Reibstein’s work is at once a history painting and an art history painting. The painter juxtaposes Trump with a recognizable Klansman a la Philip Guston, the two figures form a pyramid by touching their finger tips together, symbolizing the creation of evil. Through the touching of fingers they symbolize their creation in the likeness of evil. This imagery is reminiscent of G-d and Adam in the Sistine Chapel, where G-d is reaching out to Adam -indicative of their hands not yet touching-  to give him life and signify that the image of G-d is reflected in man, yet they’re not on the same level. In Reibstein’s image, however, the two figures are in effect one and the same, just as Guston’s Klansmen were meant to be ironic self-portraits.

Guston reflected about his crude and poignant Klansmen paintings ‘They are self-portraits. I perceive myself as being behind the hood. In the new series of ‘hoods’ my attempt was really not to illustrate, to do pictures of the Ku Klux Klan, as I had done earlier. The idea of evil fascinated me […] I almost tried to imagine that I was living with the Klan. What would it be like to be evil? To plan, to plot.’ (Guston quoted in Philip Guston Paintings 1969-1980, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1982, p. 54.)

What would the late socially engaged artist say about Trump’s persona? Guston and his family of Jewish-Canadian decent were familiar with the terror and hatred that the Ku Klux Klan represented. I’d imagine that his response wouldn’t be too far off from the statement that Reibstein made. The black outlines of the buildings along the skyline says it so subtly.

The Heathen Fundamentalists

Philip Guston’s return to figurative painting was monumental for an artist who came of age with the first generation Abstract Expressionists. He is best known for these disordered figurative paintings of hooded klansmen, cigarette butts, and other cartoonesque objects and symbols, which he began to create in the late 1960s.

Guston is still a major influence on contemporary painterly discourse, and a new exhibition at The Lodge Gallery in the Lower East Side seeks to explore and celebrate Guston’s iconoclastic legacy on today’s contemporary painters. Heathen Fundamentalism, the current exhibition at The Lodge Gallery, features seven contemporary artists who channel elements of Guston’s work to create painterly conversation with him posthumously. Like Guston, each of the seven artists in the exhibition create “impure” painterly imagery, break the mold of aesthetic monotony, and reflect on their cultural environment in a uniquely personal way.
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Connecting Figures: New Humanism in Recent Figurative Painting

The formidable imagery of humanist painting has been troublesome to incorporate within the framework of today’s painting. In the 1960s and 70s when the art market was burgeoning for trendy “art of the day,” artists like those of the Rhino Horn group predicted the shape of things to come. In the group’s manifesto they stated:

“Realize when you see our work that the so-called “thirty years of painting and sculpture” in this country has been built on a lie; it has been packaged, promoted and super-sold by ambitious critics, dealers and curators trying to build their own reputation as they fatten their bankrolls.”

This quotation echoes in the Museum of Modern Art’s recent “Forever Now” exhibition, the museum’s first contemporary painting survey in three decades. MoMA is renowned for organizing groundbreaking painting survey’s such as Dorothy Canning Miller’s six contemporary exhibitions of American art, which introduced nearly one hundred American artists to the public. “Forever Now” was a far cry from the museum’s esteemed history of seminal contemporary painting surveys. The exhibition was loaded with (largely) derivative and abstract painting (albeit there were some gems in the show) by artists who are established art market favorites. There was very little work in the show that had an emotional impact, but rather an affirmation of the status quo. The influence of money makes the art world go round.

Humanism in the arts is an evolving concept and goes against the evolution of the status quo. Since the heyday of Rhino Horn, there have been monumental changes in technology which has pushed the way our culture communicates and functions to new extremes. The paintings in “Forever Now” felt as if they were driven by technological and material energy. Therefore, I have compiled a list (which is only the beginning and will be expanded) of contemporary painters who are swimming against the grain of technological impulses and art world trends. Their work is figurative and steeped in the human psyche and condition in times of crisis. In some cases their work explores absurd phenomena in our society, or questions the significance of life’s dualities. Sometimes it is meant to disturb, shock, and elicit a visceral response. Overall, they assert new meanings, add to the terminology, and interrogate the lineage of painting.

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