Critics’ Picks

Michael Stamm, Virtue Vest, 2017, oil, acrylic, and flashe on linen, 28 x 21".

Michael Stamm, Virtue Vest, 2017, oil, acrylic, and flashe on linen, 28 x 21".

New York

Michael Stamm

DC Moore Gallery
535 West 22nd Street 2nd Floor
January 4–February 3, 2018

Woe to the modern young urbanite who tries to remedy his existential queasiness with the sundry potions and palliatives offered up through the wellness-industrial complex. Is there any homeopathic pill, miracle woobie, blessed fruit, or chill yoga teacher that can coax you out of your rarefied malaise, your bummer ennui, as the world around us continues to burn?

Michael Stamm uses these conditions as a pretext for his exhibition of paintings here. Thank goodness it’s flimsy. Stamm is a painter of exceptional skill and finesse who has the preternatural ability to synthesize the lessons of Alex Katz, George Tooker, Domenico Gnoli, and two Walters—Sickert and Gay—into exquisitely wrought pictures that feel simultaneously out of time and of the moment. Everyday items are suffused with a deep magic: Jewels, buttons, and various comfort beverages (steaming, on the rocks, or fizzy with Alka-Seltzer) function as divine symbols. Virtue Vest (all works cited, 2017) depicts a garment of quilted black diamonds, based on one Stamm’s therapist wears, that doubles as a portal. The entrance is guarded by a crafty-looking necklace in the form of a woman’s face, an oracle with sleepy eyes that likely refuses to appease her interlocutors with easy answers. The pullover besieged by hellfire and death in Saint Sweater features a bannered message in Latin that reads “CONSILIO FIRMATEI DEI,” or, “It is established by God’s decree.” The phrase, along with an illuminated crown rendered across a man’s arms drawn up defensively, is taken from Joan of Arc’s family crest—signs of unbelievable devotion and, unfortunately, grisly ends.

Stamm is a fabulously eccentric image-maker who loves to warp history. His paintings are playful and sharp in all the ways we expect a contemporary artwork to be. But they’re also fussy, sentimental, and stubbornly old-fashioned—a great deal better than clever, and so much more gratifying than “cool.”