New York

Jennifer Bartlett

I have always found Jennifer Bartlett’s reliance on pictorial device, her emphatic desire to prove the artiness of her art, terribly arch. The sectional pieces, with their diagrammatic representations and schematic indexing, suffered from the tension of wanting to be seen as intellectual. The later screens appeared more relaxed as they played around with a look of casual funkiness, but too often remained merely coy. The new paintings are still burdened with such problems, still rely too much on obvious devices like repetition and internal rhyming within a tripartite format. But they are saved by the fact that Bartlett seems now more willing to be simply a painter, a decision that allows the work to lose a great deal of unnecessary baggage.

These paintings are photo-derived, based on a series of snapshots of an empty swimming pool, with peeing put-to, somewhere in the south of France. The image has a nice resonance. It is autumnal, maybe even decadent—the unkempt relic of a decayed European life-style. There is an overblown ripeness to it that is both sexy and nightmarish. It celebrates the good life, but in doing so acknowledges a loss, an acceptance that this kind of good life has only become more generally accessible now that it is in ruins. Looking at the paintings one is reminded of Marguerite Duras’ interminably pretentious film India Song, 1974, in which the same references are handled with a similar hushed sense of importance. But the comparison is ultimately unfair to the paintings. Perhaps it is simply the modesty of the paint itself, the quietness of the greens, the silence of the tonalities, that saves Bartlett from pretension. No matter—there is something in the paintings that manages to hold in check all the tricky art-making that informs, and wants to overwhelm, the work.

Thomas Lawson