David Salle

Gian Ferrari Arte Contemporanea

The canvases in David Salle’s recent show—diptychs with one or more rectangular spaces cut out, into which other, smaller canvases have been inserted—were constructed in the artist’s trademark fashion. In the past, Salle’s incorporation of non-pictorial objects into his paintings led to works that were polymorphic and expansive, but in these newer canvases he has limited the range of incorporated materials to the canvas-within-a-canvas, and the play between planes has become exclusively pictorial. The show also contained paintings on paper, as well as a series of photographs shot over the course of the ’80s.

In the new canvases, painted figures and objects stand out against stark backgrounds or are juxtaposed with planes defined in black and white, and silhouetted figures are superimposed on others that have been fleshed out in a more volumetric fashion. Several of the works, such as Interior/Exterior, 1997, also incorporate upside-down images. The sheer variety of Salle’s imagery continues to evoke a mass-media-induced visual overload, but the individual images are entirely handcrafted—as if, for Salle, the manual nature of his work salvages it from the overwhelming glut of visual information.

One recurring motif in Salle’s work is a juggling bear; as Massimo Audiello points out in his catalogue essay, this image can be seen as a metaphor for the artist. In his newer works, however, Salle devotes most of his attention to the human form—especially the female body. Each of the works on paper, for example, contains a portrait of a woman. Painted in oil and acrylic, using a range of grays, these portraits resemble photographic images, a connection evident in the bold croppings in Salle’s earlier work. The new paintings on paper also incorporate superimposed images of the bear, or images of colored leaves (the show was entitled “Maple Leaves”). The figures in these works, however, tended to be more academically rendered and less charged with mystery than the larger, more expansive canvases.

In contrast, the black-and-white photographs, which Salle exhibited here for the first time (and which he views as mere source material) were truly a surprise. These shadowy close-ups of a nude or seminude model in the studio—at times holding a violin or a lamp, at other times wearing a Pierrot costume—have a powerfully surreal presence.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.