Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dimorphic Reverie: Carroll Dunham

[“Tree with Red Flowers”(2009), mixed media on canvas. “Hers (Night & Day #6)” (2009), acrylic on canvas. “New Time Storm” (2009), acrylic on canvas.]

Gladstone Gallery presents an exhibition of new paintings by Carroll Dunham through December 5, 2009. Since the late seventies, Dunham’s conceptual approach to painting has volleyed between abstraction and figuration utilizing an array of media and subjects from the knotted surface of wood panels to libidinous psychic manifestations in structuring his compositions. In an accompanying catalog from a recent exhibition of Dunham’s work, Barbara Kruger biographer Kate Linker wrote in her essay: “Because [his paintings] are equally inspired by Aztec and Mayan art, recent American art, pornography, and cartoons (to cite only a few sources), these pictographs indicate the long arc of Dunham’s imagination and the latitude of his visual reading habits, which range from high to low, rarified to vernacular, artistic ‘literature’ to esthetic pulp fiction.”

Expanding his exploration of the pastoral landscape begun with a 2007 suite of tree paintings, Dunham’s trees—rather than just sprouting large flowers and leaves—now are but one entity in a complicated visual terrain of graphic, semi-figurative paintings. Dunham’s disquieting compositions constitute a blend of cartoon-like images with vivid color. Exploding with psychosexual content, his muse emerges from the flora and fauna with an aggressive and libidinous energy. While his “Mule” paintings staged the final act for the male character occupying his work in recent years, Dunham’s new landscapes find their structure in the hindquarters of a female bather. The artist’s formal meditation of the art historical trope of the nude allows for a collapse of figure and ground into a myth-laden expanse of colonized psychic and formal impulses. The intensely primal delineation of her anatomy coalesces into the principle organizing matrix of the landscape. Fields and lakes in her environs seem to issue directly from serial contours formulating her composition.

Very early in his artistic endeavor, Dunham was exposed to a number of important influences such as Dieter Froese (1937-2006), who was one of the first video and installation artists and helped to define New York’s downtown “scene” in the 1970s. Froese—whose work transcended various media such as painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, performance, and film—showed his work in P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center’s first exhibition in 1976. With his oeuvre of lyric abstraction, Terence La Noue continues to issue colorful, large-scale, and richly textured paintings in which nature studies are a vital component. Dunham interned, early on, with abstract painter Dorothea Rockburne who—in turn—had studied at Black Mountain College with Abstract Expressionist Franz Kline (1910-1962), New York School painter Philip Guston (1913-1980), composer John Cage (1912-1992), and choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919-2009).

In his exposure of psychological reality by stripping subjects and compositions of their impeding personae, Dunham’s work reveals a Surrealist influence. Drawing from that influence—as well as Abstract and Pop traditions—his paintings have carried on a strenuous formal experimentation while his figures and narratives have paralleled at a vigorous pace.

Besides Gladstone Gallery, Carroll Dunham has exhibited work at the New Museum (New York), Metro Pictures (New York), several Whitney Biennials, Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), SITE Santa Fe, the Addison Gallery of American Art (Andover), Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris, Whitechapel Art Gallery (London), White Cube (London), and Millesgården (Sweden).

Carroll Dunham

Through December 5, 2009

@ Gladstone Gallery

515 West 24th Street, New York City 10011

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