new-york

Merlin James, Big Landscape Painting, 2011, acrylic on polyester, 40 3/4 x 57 1/4".

Merlin James

Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Merlin James, Big Landscape Painting, 2011, acrylic on polyester, 40 3/4 x 57 1/4".

Easel-size paintings in historical genres (still lifes, portraits, interiors, and landscapes) that frequently picture domestic architecture (facades, empty rooms, or entire houses), Merlin James’s canvases cannot help but read as passé. Yet soliciting such an interpretation—or even relishing a contrarian stance—does not implicate James any more than the rest of us, for whom his practice serves a perennially heuristic function: Viewers question his motivations. In his writing and artmaking alike, James works through the positions of contemporary discourse, even as his production refuses to become a cipher, an illustration of theory or a placeholder for its evacuation. Thus do most texts about James turn on the question of his sincerity, often proposing that his quaint depictions of architecture (here, the houses, above all) neither appeal to the salvation of a shopworn

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