Alex Jovanovich

Keil Borrman, Facilitation: Airing of the Banner Paintings, 2013. Performance view.

AMERICA, like its psychic capital, New York City, is intolerable and bright. And, being Americans and New Yorkers, we are envied and reviled by many the world over—deservedly so. Nonetheless, I am grateful to be immersed in this marriage of misery and light, which is so often at the core of a truly memorable and, indeed, genuinely American art, some of which I was lucky enough to experience this summer, Gotham’s cruelest, most luminous season.

Ken Price, “Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Works on Paper 1962–2010” at the Drawing Center (June 19–August 18, 2013); Albright-Knox Art Gallery (September 27–January 19, 2014); Harwood Museum of Art (February 22–May 4, 2014) He was King of the Beach from June to late September, as we all know his modest retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which made fellow Californian James Turrell’s concurrent ostentation-fest at the Guggenheim look like Spencer’s Gifts on a Sharper Image budget) was spectacular. Price at the Drawing Center, however, was a revelation, as the pictures seemed to echo the even weirder interior lives of his enigmatic vessels and objects. The artist’s exquisitely crafted illustrations in gumball colors of nature, sex, anesthetized still lifes, and a bathtub suicide make a lot of the young art churned out today look exceptionally straitlaced and pitiful by comparison.

“The Civil War and American Art” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (May 27–September 2, 2013) Nearly eclipsed by all the art spectacles of the summer, this exhibition, beautifully realized by Eleanor Jones Harvey, a senior curator at the Smithsonian (where the show first opened), showed us how painters such as Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Moran, Conrad Wise Chapman, and Eastman Johnson configured a sort of hopeless sublime—a new kind of thinking and picture-making that could no longer rely on the glorious, auratic fakery of history painting imported from Europe to render the life and times of our disintegrating “New Eden.” How quickly the first photographs of bloodshed on a battlefield ruined the human spirit but summoned forth a modern way of seeing and feeling that we’ll never comfortably reckon with.

Keil Borrman at OSMOS (July 22–September 8, 2013) Painter, performer, and avant-garde master-chef Keil Borrman’s jewel of a solo show, his first in New York, opened at OSMOS in July, our month of fireworks, patriotism, and hillocks of charred and rubbed meats. Borrman’s handpainted propaganda banners and posters, emblazoned with Yes-We-Can!-style activist-empowerment statements such as DON’T STOP UNTIL WE GET THERE or YOUR AUTHORITY IS NO LONGER SANCTIONED BY US, appeared in lugubrious pastels, swirling in and about images of corporate logos, pictures of protests, and sundry abstract shapes. Borrman’s message in our post-Occupy landscape smacks of a deep ambivalence: We’ll keep trying, but it probably won’t work.

Alex Jovanovich is an artist and writer who lives in the Bronx. A selection of his work will be featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial.