New York

View of “Call and Response,” 2015.

View of “Call and Response,” 2015.

“Call and Response”

Gavin Brown's Enterprise | Downtown

View of “Call and Response,” 2015.

To survey painting in 2015 is to take on a seemingly impossible task. How to sort through its stylistic shifts, its post-medium-specific mutability, its disorienting variousness? How to define painting’s boundaries? What could one possibly say? One well-trod approach is to make no claims at all: Throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. And that, broadly speaking, was the route followed by “Call and Response,” a show at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise that presented some fifty artworks made in the past few years in a cacophonous mishmash of a salon-style hang. Instead of cohering around a discrete theme, the exhibition evinced a blithe and exuberant willingness to mix things up.

Although the gallery is big enough and the paintings were large enough to give the proceedings real seriousness and heft (a hint of the gravitas of AbEx scale), the overall feel was that of a suburban rec-room basement decked out in questionable taste. The ingredients in this allusive mise-en-scène included the stray power cord of Ken Okiishi’s flat-screen-TV painting gesture/data, 2015, which ran conspicuously along the floor, as well as an abundance of unapologetically sub-thrift-store-grade kitsch: John Seal’s hideous still life of a fruit basket, 2012/2015; Bjarne Melgaard’s drooping Untitled, 2015; and Van Hanos’s airbrushed faux-surreal Happy New Year 2015! to name but three examples. They’re so bad they hurt. But if there’s no pain, there’s no gain, and the badness of these “bad paintings” asserted itself productively amid several other overlapping and incongruous sensibilities that also included more refined entries such as Sanya Kantarovsky’s Woman with Parakeet, 2014, and Silke Otto-Knapp’s Vorhang (Birds), 2012, in addition to the rough abstraction of Kianja Strobert’s Untitled, 2015, and Chris Martin’s Marlboro, 2014, not to mention the pixelated digital artifacts of Laura Owens’s Untitled, 2015, and Pieter Schoolwerth’s Take Out #5, 2014. There was almost too much to see.

If one leitmotif came to the fore, it was cartoon- or children’s-book-like figuration—most obviously apparent in Will Benedict’s When the student is ready the master appears, 2015; Ida Ekblad’s Kons, 2014; and Julia Wachtel’s Grasp, 2014. Yet if we were tempted to think too hard about the qualities shared by these works, to ask serious questions about what paintings of cartoons might mean in 2015, we would be missing out on the winking fun of it all. Any effort at pat theorizing, at summing up, was thwarted once and for all by the absurd juxtaposition of two paintings that prominently feature gym socks (by Katherine Bernhardt and Brian Belott, respectively).

And socks—those staples of the dorm-room floor, those carriers of a strangely comic energy—may in fact have acted as an emblem for the show. On the whole, “Call and Response”—which notably featured only one monochrome, Matt Connors’s flamboyantly neon LARGE REAL BOTTOM [pink and black], 2015—came off as a base, even “underground,” riposte to the OCD decorousness of what we call “Zombie Formalism.”

Lloyd Wise