Los Angeles

Kirsten Everberg

Surely LeRoy Neiman’s sin—committed in the early 1950s, at the apex of Abstract Expressionism, and ensuring him a career of scorn—was to convert the hallmarks of painters like Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock (the splash, slash, dribble, and daub) into a signature for spasmodic expressionist/impressionist pictures of everything from Playboy bunnies to sporting events to presidents. To use Greenbergian language, Neiman pandered to the masses by reducing the avant-garde to kitsch.

Kirsten Everberg’s paintings of White House interiors, modernist buildings, and ancien régime décor and monuments, made by smearing and carefully dribbling enamel to form images that appear to congeal before one’s eyes, seem made to elicit a very different response. With their flirtation with Neimanesque kitschiness in this post–Gerhard Richter, post-painting, post-critique-of-representation climate, and with the attitudinal underpinning of Jeff Koons’s Versailles romp and Damien Hirst’s spin paintings, these pictures appear calibrated for an audience sniffing for clues. Everberg, though offers not simply references and riffs but a more complex engagement with the history of European culture and its derivations, with the traditions of painting, and with the complexities of imagemaking; the tension between abstraction and representation serves at once as a metaphor for and as a challenge to the cultural constructs she depicts. What results is a critique in the most genuine and serious sense.

Everberg’s work tends to reflect the social conditions around her. The camp underpinnings of her previous plays on pomp and opulence, produced and exhibited around the surreal time of the Bush administration’s halfway point, gave way first to compositions depicting more severe architectural spaces and surfaces and, most recently, to the stark landscapes included in her third solo exhibition at 1301PE—the artist lately searching for beauty and emotion in austerity. Somber in tone, the new paintings (all from 2008) were based on photographs she took of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962) as it played on a television. The pictures have a muted palette (the film is black-and-white), and two of them portray rooms far more sedate than the stately bedrooms, banquet halls, hotels, and clubs Everberg has previously favored. The show also included paintings of birch groves and reeds, variously reflected and backdropped by the Dnieper River, where Tarkovsky filmed much of his tale about a World War II orphan boy adopted by a Soviet army unit in the Eastern Front. As in her earlier work, Everberg has deftly chosen imagery that communicates a mood and feeling appropriate to the times.

A tension between order and flux is found in Everberg’s compositions, which owe less to the Abstract Expressionists than to lesser known artists including Janet Sobel and Knud Merrild, who produced a formal tautness similar to hers but to more understated, abstract ends. Everberg also evokes Sigmar Polke and Jack Goldstein, who brilliantly brought out both the pictorial qualities of abstraction and the abstract qualities of pictures, questioning the ways in which we construct and perceive images. Everberg’s works recall the period in which Goldstein’s painting practice was formed, along with its debates about the medium’s status. In embracing almost irreconcilable forbears, she suggests a continuation of a conflicted tradition, laying out a critique born equally of coolness and distance as of devotion and intimacy.

Christopher Miles