Merlin James/Serge Charchoune

Mummery + Schnelle

Over the past two decades, Merlin James has quietly established himself as one of the more interesting painters around, as well as one of the best critics of painting. His work might be taken for that of a nostalgic academic or a postmodern pluralist, but the very fact that these two distinct, if not opposed, identities present themselves suggests that settling on either one would be a misprision of his project. It’s true that his paintings dredge up styles from the past, and lots of them at that, but he neither invokes them as eternal verities nor toys with them with insouciant lightness. Rather, James dwells on painting’s multiplicity as its great fact and great mystery—meaning that even its finest exemplars convey no more than part of its truth, while even journeymen can sometimes surpass themselves. In James’s work, humor, poetry, mental gamesmanship, and a sense of reserve that is

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