Los Angeles

Monique van Genderen

The Happy Lion

Against the tide of contemporary fashion predominant more or less everywhere else, Los Angeles has produced some extremely interesting abstract painting over the past decade, much of it by women—Ingrid Calame and Monique Prieto are two that spring to mind. Part of the same current, perhaps, is other local work that, while not exactly painting, consistently foregrounds “painterly” issues (including that notorious bugbear, decorativeness—think of Pae White and Jorge Pardo. And then there are all those abstract sculptors—Evan Holloway, Jason Meadows, and the rest. Is there something in southern Californian air that makes the pathos of the figure less appealing there?

In all this work, abstraction becomes a form of immersion in, not distancing from, the quotidian environment. The artists show equal affection toward both avant-garde and kitsch—whether in the way the work incorporates the readymade (Holloway), subsumes itself to the functional (Pardo), or simply alludes to the banal (Calame). Monique van Genderen is part of the same generation, but is as yet lesser known. Until recently, she used adhesive vinyl film (along with enamel) as her primary material, thereby evoking commercial signage. The work’s slick, artificial surfaces and quirkily irregular geometry—at times developed at mural scale—somehow managed to meld the nostalgia of decals and ’60s Formica designs with the more astringent flavor of high modernist painting. Her newest work, exhibited under the title “My Watercolor Story,” might at first glance seem somewhat more conventional. For one thing, that defiantly vernacular vinyl is gone, replaced by sign-painter’s enamel deployed in tandem with good old-fashioned oil paint. Alongside the paintings was a shelf of small books of watercolor studies that one could leaf through—evidence of a timeless pleasure in color and transparency that is not at all lost in the translation to the paintings’ mostly large scale.

Van Genderen’s forms have become more biomorphic—in one painting here they even seemed about to transmute into an abstracted figure from the Edenic precincts of late Matisse—and her compositions less frenetic but more lively. But while van Genderen’s areas of color, which overlap but don’t blend, are self-contained, like those in the French master’s paper cutouts (or her own earlier cutout vinyl), they are not uninflected; rather, they manifest an understated but insistent painterliness that recalls Helen Frankenthaler. The paint seems both poured and brushed—that is, the artist’s hand is removed and asserted alternately.

Counterpointing her medium’s viscosity to the rigidity of the wooden support, van Genderen never lets us forget the objecthood of her paintings. Perhaps because of this, though oddly nonetheless, their glossy surfaces recall those of furniture more than of other paintings. Observing how the styles of low-modernist home decor and high-modernist painting uncomfortably intersect, she conjures an affective terrain in which the tangibility of the tabletop in your mother’s kitchen meets the fugitive optical traces of paintings projected as slides.

Barry Schwabsky