Not At Home
Svenja Deininger at Marianne Boesky
Try imagining what a Swedish interior might look like on a canvas, and you’ll get close to the paintings that populate Svenja Deininger’s Crescendo on view at Marianne Boesky Gallery until December 22. This abstract aesthetic of clean lines and pleasant, easy flesh and earth tones makes this show very appealing, but in a world in which IKEA exists what might once have evoked a utopia by way of modernist design instead recalls the well-heeled blandness of a sparsely decorated home. Don’t get me wrong, I like these works— they appeal in a very hygge sort of way— but I can’t help thinking of Robert Hughes talk of the “shock of the new,” where the merit of art is derived from its complete disavowal of the past in order to create something that could only have been produced in the current moment. These are not those paintings.
Consider one painting whose bold vertical lines take a 90˚ turn to the left towards the bottom edge of the canvas. Approach it, and you find that the lines are built up in layers, with the left side made up of gesso and paint standing proud of the right side, which consists of paint laid directly on the canvas, allowing its texture to show through. From both up close and at a distance, this painting looks like an artfully cropped aerial image of nothing more noble than a carpet. Because Deininger is so keen on playing with texture, often evoking leather and woven textiles in her paintings, her work begins to look like upholstery. While I applaud her skill in alchemizing paint into leather, the effect, though impressive, only serves to downgrade her work from art to decoration.
This is not to say that there is not some value added by these works. Her most successful canvases depart from the abstract and give us a small sense of narrative. In a few canvases, sweeping lines coalesce to form heads, and suddenly her work seems to comment on constructed identity instead of interior design. Another canvas features the bold graphic diagonals of Bauhaus design, but their confluence forms a close up of a woman’s torso and crotch, and suddenly you think oh–this feels a little more of the moment. The fact that this piece is an outlier in form and in philosophy is an unfortunate indication of the success of this show.
As only a small fraction of what I see in galleries and museums makes it onto the site (you’ll have to check my instagram for the rest), why have I chosen to write about this show? Well, to begin with, I’m not very critical for an art critic, and I thought it might be time to try my hand at critique. But more importantly, I think it serves us well to think about what makes great art– and there’s no better way to do that than think about art that doesn’t quite make the cut.
I don’t think all art today should be political (in fact, it can be refreshing when it’s not– the twenty-four hour media cycle is exhausting, our president is exhausting, fear and pain and anxiety are exhausting– we need a break!), but I think art that is created today should be born out of some necessity in our time. There was a time in which depicting the charms (or the pitfalls) of the domestic were exactly the way to communicate the zeitgeist, but the relevance of the modern home as a hopeful refuge from the tragedy of the World Wars is long gone (just cross the street to Lehmann Maupin to watch Catherine Opie literally burn modernism to the ground to see what I mean), and an artfully designed kitchen is no longer radical.
So I write about this show because at its height art must make you feel slightly uncomfortable so that you know that you are learning– or else it must reflect a feeling you are struggling to understand back to you. The reality of our situation is that to feel completely at home in our world is a luxury we no longer have.
Until December 22