New York

Jane Dickson

Brooke Alexander

Beyond the valley of the Stalinist haute-couture philosophical object manufacturers, securely this side of the luxuriously lined abyss and well out of reach of the solipsist documentary tag-team matches sadly engulfing our earnest referees, there is still, undiminished, painting. Not to mention rhythm, melody, soul food, and business as usual.

Beauty is a necessity of life and it always finds its own venues, in art and elsewhere. Sometimes things get too hot for beauty so it has to keep moving before it gets run out of town or the art world. A very popular hair product ad pleads, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” Maybe things are getting hot for beauty in the beauty world now, and that’s why we see a beauty revival in art, where it’s no longer an issue and the heat is off.

But Jane Dickson’s beautiful paintings don’t come out and smack you over the head with it. They present beauty as the incidental byproduct of the American way of life. The subject of these paintings is the demolition derby, a uniquely American sport. Derbies are the only automotive sporting events in which the contestants go nowhere in particular. The only goal is to go, longer than anyone, both by avoiding someone else’s attempts to disable one and, when the opportunity arises, by disabling others. It is the most social motor sport, the only motor sport in which accident is deliberate.

Jane Dickson has been quoted as saying offhandedly that these paintings are about futility, but I think it was probably the kind of excerpt that occurs in the cutup dialogue of openings and that if she were to go on and on from there, the rewards of persistence in futility might also be mentioned. Or the possible beauty of that persistence.

Dickson’s previous subject matter was the street life of the Times Square area where her studio was located. Among the things it was about was street light—fluorescent, neon, and the sort of strong efficient wavelengths that provide maximum optical security and cost efficiency to urban night. Those paintings seemed to be about the possible warmth in that cold light. Strange lighting is still a concern, but here it’s the flood of stadium light refracted by dust and fumes. It’s the earthly glow of an atmosphere that’s part solid. The dust will settle, and the view will be still and stark again, but in this moment cars are still running and the light is still tempered by dirt as cosmetic as face powder.

The demolition derby might be a splendid conceit for art history. Persistence pays and the oldest wreck might survive the high-powered favorite. Time and speed is not a factor except in relation to mass. So what points of history collide here? Pointillism is revived through an industrial refinement of dust and illumination. Impressionism finds virgin shtick in metalflake, auto paint, and new light wavelengths beyond nature. And the ashcan flashes back with the development of remarkably beautiful and elaborate wreckage. But that’s all a part of a heritage of what jazz players call chops.

Glenn O’Brien