Alex Olson, Jane Birkin Autograph, 2009, oil on canvas, 18 × 14".

A METONYM OF SORTS for the modernist picture, the painterly mark has gotten a bad rap: too expressive, too authorial and therefore authoritarian, too sure of its inexhaustible plenitude. Every smudge of pigment at least potentially renews the old fantasy that the painter’s mark can escape the fate of being a sign at all—that it can embody a material immanence and immediacy alien to signification. But as an inchoate index, it also gives the lie to that fantasy, haplessly referring to itself, to the medium and its traditions, and especially to the painter. It is this last point that Los Angeles–based artist Alex Olson makes into something like a subject in her witty, prepossessing paintings, which often take their cues from written texts, including posters and fashion editorials. Olson also makes ready use of what she deems “stock signage,” by which she means “flexible” forms

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