Two December Reviews
by Scott Newman

Rineke Djikstra - Night Watching and Pictures from the Archive - Marian Goodman - ****
Rineke Dijkstra's latest show at Marian Goodman dispenses with any pretense that photography's value as art is dependent on the inherent heroism of its subject matter. By deciding something is worthy of being captured and displayed for a larger audience, the photographer elevates that which has been previously neglected as mundane or everyday. The Beach Portraits, photographs of stolid beachgoers—individually or in groups—in front of a slightly out-of-focus seaside vista, enjoin viewers to confront Dijkstra's redemptive mode of seeing. The series does not stray far from its appellative purpose: individuals change, but the artist's visual world remains consistent throughout. Each photo has a similar sense of scale, composition, and environment; the lumedyne flash, brutal and unyielding in its treatment of the models, endows the pieces with a pictorial flatness. Optic uniformity and an understated (but still thoughtful) mise-en-scène allow Dijsktra to extract an estranged sort of monumentality from her models. She embraces the aesthetic reality of her work while maintaining the observational cadence of an art photographer. In acquiescing to the camera's alienating power, her photographs strike at the tension between beauty and truth which is so central to the art of photography. Though democratic in subject matter, the effect of her technique strikes me as meticulously composed in its visual order and tight frame.
A large room at the opposite end of the gallery, far from the daylit embrace of the primary exhibition space, houses Dijkstra's latest video piece, Night Watching. The video's cinematic language is identical to another piece from 2009, I See A Woman Crying. Groups of observers are shown commenting on Rembrandt's The Night Watch, presented in a triptych array of screens that present her subjects from various distances and angles. To dwell on the actual substance of their remarks would be a mistake, as nothing is said of art-historical value. Rather, Dijkstra records the kaleidoscopic web of social relations and psychological idiosyncrasies that ground our collective experience of art, thus diverting our attention away from one glaring absence: the actual painting. She simulates the affective experience of beholding art by circumventing more direct methods of reproduction, emphasizing the emotional realities of those who are doing the beholding. The rapid pace at which photography and, by extension, film, could transcribe a visual record of events or objects in the real world has made it the premier vehicle for truth-telling since its invention; abundance, so to speak, enabled their practitioners to generate endless snapshots with little regard for traditional painterly content. However, this same abundance has transformed us into hardened cynics, reducing our capability for true spiritual engagement with art. Audiences now visit the authentic works long after their eyes have grown accustomed to meager reproductions. Through prohibiting any semblance of immediate representation, Dijkstra illustrates instead how aesthetic scarcity may yet resolve the conflict between painting and photography.

Georg Baselitz - The Painter in His Bed - Gagosian - **.5
Like Baselitz's other recent exhibitions, this collection continues to build on gestures that have long-since defined his oeuvre in the public imagination; the economized application of paint through discrete macchie, the inverted orientation of his canvases. His most recent works before The Painter in His Bed have employed a garish, oversaturated palette that suffocates their painterly intent, a mistake Baselitz thankfully avoids in this collection. A more rigorous and well-considered visual economy governs the selection of hues that populate these compositions, more comprehensively realizing his aim of integrating feeling and technique. The upside-down maneuver remains tantalizing as always; Baselitz first forces us to consider the material and aesthetic construction of his pieces by hindering our preliminary interpretative efforts. We trace the downward dribble of paint as it meanders across canvas before receiving its representational meaning.
Though I was fond of the show, Baselitz neglects the aesthetic dialogue between paint, negative space, and fabric that would have enriched these operative forces. Lacking any clear sense of interrelation, these elements were underdeveloped as smaller units in an integral whole. The expressive character of Baselitz's primitive mark-making facture works better in his abstracted figurative paintings; the technique appears vulgar when used to depict stags. The application of fabric to his canvases feels disjointed and interrupts one's momentum in reading the composition, and the stockings do not advance the visual economy of his works beyond the addition of textural interest. Baselitz's simplistic formalism foregrounds negative space in the perceptive logic of his compositions, yet this does not amplify the bravura of his brushwork. Overall, Miss Francis cha, cha, cha best articulates the visual concerns that Baselitz sets out to investigate and thematize in this collection. The abstract figurative forms anchor his pictorial space in a substantial yet discreet way, encouraging one to consider artistic gestures through a more directed process of visual discovery. Wrinkles along the nylon mimic the black paint's slight impasto and foment a contained sort of visual drama, while the stockings serve as a representational vehicle. Left to their own ends, the painter's marks retain a visceral expressiveness. The density of the white strokes atop the blue background reference the fabric's delicate ridges, while their tonality better situates negative space within the work's visual system.