Sunday, August 10, 2008

Review Catchup 2: Peter Saul Not at MOCA or MOMA

"Saul’s penchant for the blasphemous, sexually explicit, ultraviolent needling of authority figures pretty much accounts for why this is only his third solo survey show in America. Over the past couple of decades, he has vented a good portion of his spleen on art-world icons: a self-portrait taking a shit in Duchamp’s iconic urinal, innumerable piss-takes on 19th-century history paintings, and — most ill-advisedly — a series of uncommissioned portraits of prominent art critics. These began with Minimalism cheerleader Barbara Rose in 1963 and culminated with the transgendered, self-penetrating (with a paintbrush!) Clemunteena Gweenburg (1971) — though the artist continues to poke occasional cruel fun at this most misunderstood, embattled and unappreciated segment of the art world (Oh! Do me! Do me!).

No examples from this particular series of broadsides made it into the current retrospective at the Fashion Island–adjacent OC Museum of Art, though there are always plenty of digs at art stars like De Kooning and Picasso — Saul even takes on Francis Bacon and Duchamp in a single painting. Ironically, it was these kinds of satirical half-homages that initiated Saul’s rehabilitation in the mid-’80s, and they are the works for which he remains best known.

Which is the single most melon-twisting aspect of this act of institutional redemption, since Saul has always been, for me, one of the two or three best painters of the original group of artists labeled Pop in the very early 1960s, when his work (with its jumble of consumer goods rendered in exquisite but skeptical recovered naiveté) looked like a mash-up of De Kooning, Dubuffet and Richard Hamilton. While Warhol was arguably more economical in charting the trajectory of painting’s eventual (if not ultimate) disappearance up its own arsehole, in the end he was better at drawing lines than he was painting. Lichtenstein and Rosenquist? Fuggedaboudit. Good painters with great shticks ... and timing. Saul’s painterly peers in the early Pop era were crackpot Europeans like Öyvind Fahlström, Sigmar Polke (pronounced pokey) and Gerhard Richter (pronounced Gumby), and L.A. transplants Hockney and Kitaj. All of whom went on to blue-chip currency. Except for Fahlström, who shared Saul’s inability to refrain from direct commentary on America’s habit of global imperialism. Mere coincidence? Perhaps ..."

Read the rest of 'Th-th-that's Saul, Folks!: Peter Saul's Painterly Cartoon Armageddon' here and see the show at OCMA through Sept 21

Peter Saul (descending a blogspace): "Bush at Abu Ghraib" (2006); "Art Critics' Suicide" (1996) [not included in exhibit]; "Vietnam" (1966); "Icebox Number 7" (1963)

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