Anita David

Artemisia Gallery

Good taste—what “good” is it, anyway?—abounds in Anita David’s recent series of paintings. The seven monochrome works that comprised this installation function as emblems of esthetic seriousness, 48-by-48-inch squares of plush gray, made using an inventory of painterly effects. The names that emblazon their surfaces are also filled with associations of a particularly tasteful sort: “Gucci,” “Bloomingdale’s,” “Comme des Garçons,” and so on, an impressive roster of trendsetting stores whose nominative presence sabotages the dignity of these painted fields.

The humor of this conceptual exercise is obvious—equating paintings with purses, scarves, even designer shopping bags, as sites for the reifying logotypes of high fashion. Less apparent here is an examination of textural sufficiency; of the sort of surface necessary to make each work signify painting rather than stage backdrop, to be seen as itself rather than in the guise of, before consideration of the words each bears attacks this substantive claim.

Tiffany & Co.’s boldfaced serif type is relatively small, appearing in the middle near the bottom of a canvas dappled with gray acrylic lozenges. Neiman-Marcus’s gaudy scrawl runs from edge to edge, superimposed on flaccid arcs of paint that could have been applied with a trowel. In Gucci, moments of vivid magenta underpainting show through a play of brushstrokes vaguely reminiscent of David Budd. Indeed, there are nods in the direction of Larry Poons, Jules Olitsky, and Darby Bannard, although specific references to these painters’ tactics could only compromise David’s intent.

The names, lettered in by a professional sign painter, are reasonable facsimiles of each store’s trademark typography Theirs is a credible resemblance, established through our familiarity with prior usages. But how about the painting itself? Its claim to authenticity resides in an attention to surface inflection which is thoroughly generic. Too close an approach to another artist’s techniques risks incorporating an extra persona in the work, as an actor whose presence brings along precisely the reference to mise-en-scène David seeks to avoid.

The effectiveness of David’s installation depends on a delicate sequence of perceptions, assumptions, and contradictions. For the most part, the paintings live up to their names. They are sufficiently well executed to serve both as simulations of artworks and as situations appropriate to the presentation of their fashionable labels. Less successful was the extra device of a price list tacked to the gallery wall. The paintings were priced in descending order of status, with Neiman-Marcus and Gucci most expensive, down to a “bargain basement” tag on Macy’s. Funny? Yes, but only at some cost to the believability of the works themselves.

Buzz Spector