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Representational Painting!

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Vija Celmins, Hand Holding a Firing Gun, 1964, Collection of Jack and Joan Quinn, Beverly HillsAn article (Painters take reality beyond the camera, October 8) by Gloria Goodale for the Christian Science Monitor reviews a new exhibit called The Undiscovered Country at the Armand Hammer Museum of Art at UCLA in Los Angeles. The show presents 65 works by 23 painters working in representational styles of painting, but the Web site shows a selection of only twelve of them. See also Edgar Bryan's The Ledge (2004).

Such a concise show is by definition not encyclopedic, says the curator [Russell Ferguson]. But this selection of works illustrates various approaches modern artists have taken to the genre's major themes through the ages, from history painting and allegory to landscape and portraiture. History painting was once considered the highest form of painting, says Ferguson. Photography, with its ability to capture a historical moment in a flash, has challenged the painter to capture history in new ways, he says.

"Souvenir I," a massive work (9 by 12 feet) on the scale of traditional history paintings [by Kerry James Marshall, not on the Web site], tackles the issue of civil rights with what Ferguson calls an arms-length approach. A winged figure in black looks out from the canvas. He is surrounded by objects of mourning - flowers, food, and a banner with photos of Martin Luther King and the Kennedy brothers that carries the words, "We Mourn Our Loss." This phrase applies to the actual loss of the historical figures, but it also refers to a sadness over the loss of painting as a meaningful tool to reflect on historical moments. The painting deals indirectly with history, but also becomes an allegory "about the lack of confidence in painting's ability to deal directly with history anymore," says Ferguson.If there is a single quality that sets modern representational painting apart from photography, he says, it is absorption, "the ability to go deep into a single moment and be rewarded by the complexity of that moment."
I have to say that I am not familiar with most of the 23 artists in the show, except for Philip Guston (Untitled, 1975) and Luc Tuymans (Egypt, 2003), the latter of whom I mentioned in this post on September 7.

The Undiscovered Country will be at the Armand Hammer Museum of Art, at UCLA in Los Angeles, until January 16, 2005. (Thanks to Lenny at Washington, DC Art News for the link.)

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