In times of retrenchment painting moves up from mere kingship of the artworld to godhood but at least we have something gorgeous to look at. A quick hop around Chelsea finds rather stunning Eric Fischl bullfight scenes, existential dread intact (Mary Boone), spray-and-stencil Rorschach-ish patterns with a '70s feel by Matthew Ritchie (Andrea Rosen), and Gaussian "soft op" paintings in hard-edged halftones by Wayne Gonzales (Paula Cooper). Mike Kelley joins the "on canvas" crowd with many so-bad-they're-good daubings at Gagosian. The most thrift-store-like are in the back gallery, strategically positioned not to face the door--modernist sculptures, Indian gods and boners mingle in work so crudely rendered you can't help but laugh. The man can still deliver. Fellow LA-ite Robert Williams seems civilized by comparison, offering intriguing brain teasers-n-babes at Shafrazi. (Not painting but painting-like, noteworthy, and, well, about oil are Edward Burtynski's bleak photoscapes of drilling sites at Hasted Hunt Kraeutler.)
A late shout-out to one of the finer projects I've seen (done?) in NY: a laptop lecture by Bennett Williamson and Jeff Sisson followed by tour of a C-Town grocery store in Brooklyn. (As part of the 2008 Conflux festival--yes, this post is a year overdue.)
Precedents include Smithson's "Monuments of Passaic" travelogue, as well as Robert Nickas' essay "Shopping with Haim Steinbach," documenting consumption crawls he and Haim Steinbach made in different types of NY retail establishments--from an upscale W. Broadway design store to Banana Republic--during the Neo Geo era. The C-Town tour eschewed the high end but retained a similar expansion of focus of looking at ordinary phenomena scientifically, poetically, like artists. Sisson and Williamson had boned up on their subject (C-Town history, tricks of the retail trade, advertising strategies) and prepped us tour-goers for what to look for when we walked over to the store. One rather stunning realization made palpable by the adventure is that you aren't supposed to linger in grocery stores. There is pressure, social, corporate, peer, to move on. Especially if you're hanging out just to analyze packaging and impulse displays. We tour-goers had to split into small groups so as not to attract attention.
Being in C-Town with the penetrating attitude imbued by their lecture felt wrong, somehow. These are things we are not meant to know.