New York

“Color Detour”

In critic Faye Hirsch’s curatorial debut “Color Detour”—a group exhibition of paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, and sculpture—color is conspicuous by its absence. What remains are its signs, from the literal to the metaphorical. One reads a deep blush into Janice Krasnow’s white canvas, on which is printed in bold letters: “plump and fleshy/roots with pink/streaked buds.” Manuel Alvarez Bravo’s photograph of compatriot Frida Kahlo, famous for appearing in traditional Mexican dress, screams folkloric color even in vintage black and white.

The show is informed by another absence, the work that originally inspired this exhibition. As Hirsch relates in her essay, she had long admired, via reproduction, an Andy Warhol paint-by-number, Do It Yourself (Landscape), 1962. When she learned that the cost of including it would exceed her entire budget, she compromised by reproducing part of the work on the cover of the color pamphlet that accompanied the show, titling her essay after the painting, and then exhibiting the much less famous (and more affordable) stand in. This was Joe Brainard’s contribution to a special June 1964 edition of C Comics, 1964, a mimeographed magazine produced by Ted Berrigan, who, along with Brainard, was described by John Ashberry as a member of the “soi-disant Tulsa School” of ’60s New York Pop artists. The magazine was shown in a vitrine open to Brainard’s full-page illustration of the outlines of a butterfly, captioned “Color Me.” Additional text, by Robert Dash, offered words of encouragement as well as self-doubt to the aspiring artist or would-be colorer, such as “valor,” “courage,” doubt,“ and ”dignity.“ By making the curatorial shortcomings of ”Color Detour“ part of the overall presentation, Hirsch showed how exhibitions have come to reflect as much a given curator’s budget and clout as his or her vision and taste. This observation is made even more explicit by the form Hirsch’s essay takes: an interview with an alter-ego, Fanny Horton. The result is F. H. the critic conversing with F. H. the curator—a self visibly divided over the possibilities of this ”do it yourself" endeavor.

Even without the Warhol—or perhaps, precisely because of it—Hirsch’s product was an intriguing rumination on reproduction. A silkscreen by Gerhard Richter charted nine of the standard 180 available printer’s inks. Christian Garnett’s abstract paintings looked like mechanical slips of the press, gray skids eclipsing streaks of vivid color. Matvey Levenstein mined the rich blues and golds of an old photograph in his painting of a forest. And Katurah Hutcheson seemed to have tortured some yellow squares out of the otherwise colorless skin of her painting. Viola Frey and Remy Zaugg both banked on the art of the knock-off. In paper mounted on canvas, Zaugg catalogued by name and charted by location all the colors in a painting by Cézanne. Frey cast an offensive trove of ceramic tchotchkes—from Chinese Mandarin to Indian Brave to Chicken Little—as an absurd colony around an iconic figure of her own making, a business man. The whole, entitled Gathering Together Western Civilization II, 1995, was glazed as white as white can be, which as “Color Detour” showed, was hardly white at all.

Ingrid Schaffner