New York

Munro Galloway

De Chiara/Stewart

Did you grow up before or after the VCR? With or without computers? Pre or post the World Wide Web? Even Luddites have to admit it makes things interesting, not knowing where we’ll be next—but knowing we’ll be there soon. Where does painting fit in? we wonder. There’s been a lot of speculation lately about who the next generation of young painters will be, what attitudes might motivate painting in the future, and, perhaps most important, what it will look like. Keep an eye on Munro Galloway. In his first solo exhibition of impressively stylish and savvy paintings, he uses visual allure as a springboard to grapple with the way painting constructs its relation to its history, to mass culture, and to something we might describe as the place where “the avant-garde meets the good life.”

In contrast to the quirky realism of recent figurative painting (e.g., of Karin Kilimnik, John Currin, and Elizabeth Peyton), Galloway’s paintings of young, beautiful Asians (mostly men, at least in this show) posed in elegantly empty interiors look all “grown up.” This is due, in part, to Galloway’s many references to Manet. It’s not just the languorous handling of paint, or the refined aesthetics of a palette restrained to muted tonalities, but also a certain attitude that Galloway seems to be borrowing from Manet. That attitude is manifest in the isolation of ultrafashionable figures who appear to be stayed, both by their own self-consciousness at being looked at and by their desire to edify the one whose gaze pins them in place. Factored in as another field of influence, many of the sultry moments Galloway renders are taken from a recent Prada ad campaign featuring Takeshi Kaneshiro, a superstar of Hong Kong action cinema, who is as accomplished in the martial arts and acting as he is in projecting “the look.”

Reverberating in the paintings, broadcasting uniqueness yet manufactured for mass consumption, this “look” connotes a lifestyle of high taste with a minimalist polish. It’s also the visual expression of new globalism: Prada folds into Kaneshiro into Hong Kong action cinema into Chelsea chic into an art that brings it all to the brink of being pure paint. In the ephemeral and fluid relations between music, art, fashion, design, decor, and film, a turn-of-the-century commercial avant-garde has begun to flourish. It is significant that Galloway’s paintings don’t stand at a distance from the ambient cultural zone they describe. They are fluent in the visual language of mass culture—anyone who can “read” a Prada ad, for example, has instant access.

Galloway moves between local and global, past and present, East and West, telescoping through layers of representation. Despite this busyness, the place in which we encounter his graceful, gender-lite figures is, prototypically, a world of digital perfection, a fashionable, fictional Orient. But Galloway also intimates life behind the facade: a pulse, a groove, something vaguely personal. A sense of displacement finds its way into the quasi-narrative framework, amplified by a vagrant subject whose voice seems to be “channeled” in the title of the exhibition, “I could take you far away from here.”

In I could live in hope, 1999, a three-panel, panoramic painting of a fallen figure who stretches over thirteen feet long, ambiguity takes on a fashionable life of its own. Is the figure male or female? Dead or alive? Is it all for the camera, this coital edge of cool? Galloway muscles painting right past the myth of its irrelevance and into a familiar, consumer-based sublime that plays on every screen in America.

Jan Avgikos