New York

Matthew Antezzo

Basilico Fine Arts

Matthew Antezzo’s work is not so much conceptual as high-concept: his grisaille paintings are based on photographs of ephemeral manifestations of early-’70s art copied from back issues of Artforum and other magazines. Beneath each image, on a separate predella-style canvas, he paints the caption. Some of the works are famous, others forgotten. Where is Maggie Lowe now? (Antezzo’s Maggie Lowe, Explosion: Hostess Twinkies and Explosive, 1971, certifies her as a “bad girl” avant la lettre.) Antezzo sets himself up as this decade’s answer to Simon Linke. Whereas, in the ’80s, Linke painted contemporary ads with bravura brushwork to signify all that remained or wished to remain separate from the market system, Antezzo focuses on the past with a student’s nostalgia for the putative purity of the “dematerialized” art of twenty years ago, though he knowingly contradicts this dematerialization by monumentalizing it as painting. He does this in a style that is self-effacing, descriptive, anonymous.

As with much of the art the paintings depict, one has the feeling that a description of Antezzo’s work would be nearly as informative as seeing it, but the passage from object to image is far from seamless. These works have nothing of the refinement of a Gerhard Richter, let alone the icy perfection of the slicker photorealists. The human figure in particular gives Antezzo a hard time, so that the painting of a recumbent Alan Sonfist resembles a mannequin pieced together from detached parts. Even the block of ice in Rafael Ferrer’s Ice Piece #3—with its mix of transparency and reflection, solid and liquid textures, the kind of thing a ’70s painter like Janet Fish could have turned into a virtuoso study—can only be recognized for what it is thanks to the caption.

The trouble is that these are not concepts but paintings, whose embodiment as such counts for something: they need to be pleasurable as well as “interesting.” At times they are, particularly when what is to be rendered presents no particular difficulties and Antezzo can concentrate on broadly “formal” challenges instead. Antezzo is most successful in his paintings of Michael Asher’s Situational Work, 1974—a gallery empty but for the reception desk—and of a 1974 installation of Marcia Hafif’s monochromes. In these comparatively modest and stark paintings—they begin to approximate geometrical abstraction—Antezzo goes beyond expressing acquiescence to the copyist’s role through the very inadequacy of his copying, a stance that is generally too typical of his work and serves merely to testify to the eternal superiority of the original. Here, instead, we begin to discern a genuine detachment from the idealization of the source expressed through the very indifference of these paintings as painting. For all their nostalgia, they also suggest the impossibility of repeating today the kinds of gestures they depict, thereby pointing to the discrepancy between model and copy as a source for some renewed originality within a situation that may otherwise render all forms as conventional and reified as the one Antezzo employs.

Barry Schwabsky