Critics’ Picks

Richard Aldrich, If I Paint Crowned I’ve Had It, Got Me, 2008, oil and wax on wood, on cut linen, 84 x 58”.

Richard Aldrich, If I Paint Crowned I’ve Had It, Got Me, 2008, oil and wax on wood, on cut linen, 84 x 58”.

St. Louis

Richard Aldrich

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
3750 Washington Blvd.
January 21–May 1, 2011

In “Richard Aldrich and the 19th Century French Painting” Aldrich makes his first solo museum show a shrewd collaboration, joining twenty of his paintings with older works borrowed from the Saint Louis Art Museum’s permanent collection—two Vuillards, a Bonnard, and a Sir William Orpen. The combination emphasizes temporality and performance, resulting in a pleasurable complexity that the young artist alone might not have achieved.

Aldrich is concerned not just with art history but also with the components of artmaking. There’s the sketch, the cartoon, the canvas, and the stretcher, as well as elements of abstraction and representation, and evidence of daily life in and outside the studio: a movie ticket, book pages, and Nina Simone lyrics. The casualness of this work can seem both high-stakes and slight, but it draws gravity from the “19th Century French Painting” of the exhibition title. The Orpen self-portrait represents the painter as showman, and the domestic scenes of the Nabis underscore the quotidian. Aldrich also has formal connections with his predecessors in brushwork and a palette of grays and browns punctuated by brighter hues. It’s as if one of the Vuillards had exploded and scattered its material and philosophical fragments onto the Aldrich canvases nearby.

Time and performance coalesce in the artist’s text-painting paean to Simone, which transcribes the song “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” including her preamble: “What is this thing called time . . . Is it a thing that we cannot touch and is it alive?” Aldrich, also a musician, seems to channel the great singer’s freestyle sensibility. With his openness to associations, he clearly understands the power of a band: that the whole can mean more than the sum of its parts.