In 2009’s Untitled, the curator of a contemporary gallery sells abstract paintings from her back room because if her clients knew she sanctioned that kind of work they would banish her from the art world. The brutal suggestion is that you can be successful selling abstract art, but don’t expect anyone in the art world to take you seriously. Unless you’re dead, white, and from the 1950s. You can say only so much about contemporary abstraction that doesn’t involve furniture-store decoration, above-the-couch purchases, or dead white dudes. Banks, hotels, and coffee shops are filled with the stuff, all without an ounce of irony.
Vilem Flusser wrote about what the future of art criticism would look like. He imagined it as an infinity symbol, with multiple values flowing into one another. On that scale, art, propelled by habit, would go from ugly to beautiful to pretty to kitsch and back to ugly again.
We might wonder how long a work of art or an art movement would take to travel that path. But we’ve already seen it happen, from the impressionists and their revealing of every brushstroke (shocking at the time), to their celebration, then to that calendar in your office of water lilies, and finally to the God Hates Renoir! movement.
What you’ll find at Artspace 111 through November 27, however, is work that’s more violent than suggested by its title –– Magnificent Tempest –– and more complex than contemporary abstraction. Winter Rusiloski’s often large paintings combine elements of landscape and abstraction that draw strong lines back to the masters of landscape paintings that touch on abstraction, especially J.M.W. Turner and Caspar David Friedrich.
This homage makes sense, considering the context of Winter’s MFA studies at TCU with professor Jim Woodson, and she would have seen a lot of landscape and abstraction between the Kimbell and the Modern art museums. But the thirtysomething Fort Worthian attributes her affinity for these styles to her upbringing in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., and frequent visits to the Jersey Shore and other East Coast beaches during her childhood.
The thing that stretches Rusiloski’s work beyond its influences, though, is the use of photographs directly on canvas and her somewhat violent application of paint, which re-imagines the sublime in nature as a serial killer. In “Luna’s Surge,” staccato brushstrokes create a vortex from which an airplane engine emerges. If you’re a fan of action movies, this is usually when the plane bursts into flames as Bruce Willis ejects himself from the cockpit.
Despite her subterfuge with pastels and horizon lines, there is no escaping the violence in the piece. Even her innocuous use of what she describes as “sails” in most of her paintings (crude oval shapes with dark lines) suggests a kind of tempest that you would associate more with childbirth than a storm. In “Offering,” the paint has been thrust onto the canvas to create an ugly, terrible scene. It’s with this kind of sincere and purposed conflict on canvas that the work goes beyond kitsch and back into ugly, where it is more properly considered for its bare emotions and skepticism of the otherwise serene landscape.
As a complement to Magnificent Tempest, Artspace 111 put together a selection from The Exhibitionists, a one-night group show at Shipping and Receiving Bar on the Near Southside a couple of weeks ago. The standouts of this small selection are Shasta Haubrich’s two highly conceptual works. In “Season 37” and “Season 30,” she has analyzed two seasons of Saturday Night Live in hand-painted text and pie charts. The complexity of her analysis deepens when she breaks down the comedic value by guest hosts and cast members. In its total rejection of object-based art, Haubrich’s pieces have all the humor and balls of ’60s conceptualism –– but without any of the ironic detachment or fuck-you condescension seemingly intrinsic to neo-conceptualism.
With The Exhibitionists in the back and Magnificent Tempest in the front, it seems that you can indeed be taken seriously, and your patrons can get a little more than they anticipate when buying for that spare bedroom.
Thru Nov 27 at Artspace 111, 111 Hampton St, FW. Free.