Critics’ Picks

View of “Mixed Messages,” 2013.

View of “Mixed Messages,” 2013.

Los Angeles

Sean Kennedy

Thomas Duncan Gallery
6109 Melrose Ave
September 7–October 26, 2013

Over smears, splotches, and oozes of color, corporate logos accrue through impulsive repetitions in Sean Kennedy’s new untitled paintings. A delirious little fracas—or a cloyed and weary reconciliation—between Pop and abstraction plays out across fifteen identically sized Plexiglas shadow boxes. At times merging with painted passages, at times disrupting them, cheap consumer commodities rest beneath the plastic panes in some works: electric outlet plates, disposable razors, Pez dispensers. Inert and somehow flatter than the churning surfaces, the objects sit there, a reminder of Pop’s celebrated displacement of tactility and corporeality with the enticements of the image.

But unlike so much backward-glancing painting that purports to interrogate, work through, or rethink the legacies of closed chapters, Kennedy’s paintings seem to turn precisely—and skeptically—on that inability to crawl out from under the long shadows of the mid-twentieth century. They suggest how the gestures and lines and fields of our recurrent abstractions function like logos—legible, salable, exhaustingly inexhaustible. They evoke the cyclonic accelerations of the image world that Pop unveiled, and the way even the most painterly of paintings come to look like images of painting.

Kennedy painted his logos from model race car decals, and though he dismisses this source material as “a bit of red herring” in the show’s accompanying press release, his disavowal, to my mind, is the red herring here. Not just because, in a punning twist, he’s been (as in figure painting) working from models. The peculiar circulation of these corporate emblems—from ubiquity to the fantastic specificity of the model car—entails a discrete miniaturizing that mirrors a fundamental feature of the relationship between art and the world. Kennedy’s paintings might then be described as models: condensations or representations in miniature of the endless reprocessing of histories and the frantic swirl of images, all contained in a tidy white frame.