Critics’ Picks

Alan Belcher, Oil On Canvas (G), 2018,
oil on tarpaulin, 24 x 24".

New York

Alan Belcher

298 Grand Street
May 4–June 10, 2018

As my Instagram feed would attest, I have a thing for stuck-on signs and vehicle wraps. I’m taken with the conflation of utilitarian objects and instrumental images, of public displays and commodity come-ons. For someone whose roots lie in Pop, such amalgamations feel more like accidental art than advertising. Toronto-based artist and East Village legend Alan Belcher seems to share this fascination for photographic transposition and dimensional confusion, which, in his hands, open the commerce of imagery to pointed usurpation, poetry, and critique. Given that contemporary art increasingly manifests—wittingly or unwittingly, ironically or not—as a catalogue of competing brands, the artist’s decades-long double-dealing in the currency of the product pitch would now seem more relevant than ever.

In a move unquestionably witting and ironic, Belcher here presents a suite of eight small- to medium-size pictures of silhouetted oil derricks, all 2018, finely rendered in pitch-black oil paint on canvases composed of patchworked tarpaulins. In pirating the material of Western art’s execution—oil on canvas (which is also the title of each painting)—and supplanting it with punning displacements, Belcher wraps the age-old support of genteel representation in a set of connotations redolent of more worldly and politicized concerns, namely, those attending the administration of wealth, power, industry, and labor. A prolific artist with a deep history, Belcher is best known for astutely transfigured readymades and brand-conscious presentations that focus and shift attention in illuminating ways. In this instance, and not for the first time, he shines a light on painting itself, reconceived as a materially and interpretively rich image-clad object.