New York

Chris Wilder

Roger Merians Gallery

Wrapping the gallery in foil as if it were a great big gift, L.A.–based artist Chris Wilder created a shiny, happy, reflective environment in which the not necessarily shiny and happy New York public could contemplate a group of peculiarly attractive paintings. The experience of Chill Out, 1995, was smoothed out by the eclectic sounds of a CD made in collaboration with fellow Los Angeleno T. Kelly Mason (which featured a compilation of excerpts from such disparate and relatively obscure sources as Spiro T. Agnew Speaks Out and Action Stereo! Adventures in Stereo Sound Effects), and one section of the gallery was even furnished with white fake-fur pillows, a scattering of books, and a small video projection called “Red Bubbles”—the title says it all. Wall-to-wall blue carpeting provided the finishing touch to this charming packaging of hipness.

Although Wilder’s low-tech multimedia environment—somewhat reminiscent of an early ’60s sci-fi B-movie set—might be understood as a tongue-in-cheek riposte to the genre of installation, it is perhaps more interesting to view his gesture as a perverse test of painting’s ability to maintain esthetic autonomy while drawing from a larger conceptual/formal framework. One reason to get fairly enthusiastic about Wilder’s softly funky approach to artmaking is that he seems eager to screw around with the protocols of painting. By hanging ten modestly sized “silver paintings” against a tinfoil backdrop, Wilder momentarily “foils” our desire to establish a decisive separation between the paintings and the context in which they are presented. Does the former become camouflage for the latter, or is it the other way around? In a sense, Wilder’s installation can be read as a metaphor for the need to allow painting to belong to everything that putatively exists outside of it, and vice-versa.

As Wilder’s show demonstrated, painting is sometimes most like itself when it is most unlike itself. Even though there are no obvious links, similarities do exist between Wilder’s “environmental” approach to painting and the work of other artists who have used the medium as a point of departure: Jessica Stockholder’s explosion of painting into new physical and conceptual dimensions; Mike Kelley’s fields of interrelated if heterogeneous esthetic languages, in which painting is but one element of a longer visual text; and even Nicole Eisenman’s frenzied, slyly postexpressive conglomerations. At first glance, Wilder’s paintings read as sweetly packaged candies decorating the silvery walls, but on closer inspection, the individual paintings reveal surprisingly complex formal structures and seductive visual resonances. Though the flashy environment threatens to gobble these pictures up, Wilder’s decision to fabricate them from materials such as holographic film, aluminum foil, weaved aluminum, duct tape, Naugahyde, and insulation suggests that he would like us to consider the possibility that it was actually the other way round: that the paintings gobbled up and reinvented their environment.

Joshua Decter