Peter Gallo @ Horton, NYC

Contemporary and Old Art Reviews

Peter Gallo @ Horton, NYC

Postby CAP » Mon Feb 20, 2012 1:04 pm

Sometimes it’s easier to look further afield for issues. I‘m reviewing the Peter Gallo show @ Horton NYC not because it’s so remarkable, but because it demonstrates a persistent thread to American painting over the past 40 years or so. Rather than seize upon a London show and possibly attract some small partisan interest while I pick the bones out of it, it might be easier to talk about painting issues at more of a remove.

It’s not the first time Gallo has attracted interest this side of the pond. Matthew Higgs wrote a glowing review in Frieze in 2005, when he thought Gallo was about to become the next Big Thing. Significantly, Higgs attributed special weight to Gallo’s enthusiasm for Joy Division. Oh Matt, you old Nazi. Und Die Musik. But JD also flag Gallo’s age, his g-g-g-generation, truculent ‘tude. Somewhere it will always be the late 70s, in the post-punk dystopia that spawns the land of Indie, with critical theory cranked up to 11 for shoe-gazers and swots...

But you don’t get a lot of Peter Saville-like Constructivism in Gallo nor the kind of industrial severity one might associate with Factory Records and Martin Hannett. On the contrary, Gallo’s paintings are mostly defiantly small and scruffy, more like The Fall actually, DIY and starkly non-virtuoso or inelegant yet dripping with influences from Schnabel, Basquiat and New Image Painting to Chris Martin and even Jamie Reid. Gallo inherits a strain of Neo-Ex that emerged just after Punk Rock, at least in Germany, but skips the brutal allegories and satirical diagrams favoured in their painting for the scrawled caption and found or recycled surfaces, improvised materials for painting essentially working with the isolated motif or icon upon a vigorous or resistant ground. Think Anselm Kiefer but with less history, less ritual, less iconography… just less. And think in German.

The idea here is basically that one overwrites or undertakes some detournement or recycling of image/text and materials. The three play off one another. Even in Schnabel allegory persists, but by the time we get to say, Basquiat in the early 80s, the diagrammatic side has become more linear and stylish and text signals as much this distance from further engagement with the image as textual dissonance. It’s the natty end of Neo-Ex and the writing is on the wall, as they say. And for Gallo and a sizeable slice of American painters, this is not easy to move on from.

They’re in love with the idea that brute materials can somehow redeem or renew imagery; that only a marriage with text can adequately address the formal issues and that form is firstly located in technique. Much of this arises in New Image Painting in the mid-70s, its template-like silhouettes on ruggedly worked grounds, text much less of an issue admittedly, and there the strain is ultimately derived from Jasper Johns, patron saint of American painting. So there’s an enormous investment (financial and cultural) and critical impetus to preserve and extend this strain. It’s a short tradition, but a vital one for them. Hence the popularity of Gallo in some critical circles, he ticks all those boxes.

The problem is firstly that the process rapidly diminishes content, in the name of the inchoate and ineffable. We’re left to worship handiwork and/or lack thereof in the name of no more than distant symptoms. The problem is secondly that the rival strain to painting throughout the 90s and naughties enjoys far more acceptance by starting from content and deriving ‘painterly’ properties in the process of identifying categories or genres of picture – usually native to popular photography. Let's call this the genre wars. The European route lies through Tuymans and his particular brand of glum reductivism – immensely influential worldwide. The American route lies through Currin and Jim Shaw’s Thrift Store Collection of the outré and caricatured – equally influential. The objection to either tip is that the paintings never acquire sufficient formal rigour or originality. In defence it may be claimed that there is no absolute painterliness – that ‘painting’ need only gain distinction enough to point to a class of photo or print graphic. That’s what ‘painting’ does now.

For formalists, this is a disturbing prospect. But no matter how they want to fiddle with extreme pigments, support and applications, the iconography convenient to these experiments ends up too far removed to effectively identify genre or compelling context. Ultimately it talks about just that comfortable distance. It gains form but at the expense of content. This is actually a much clearer way of thinking about the issue rather than ‘materiality’ versus ‘image’. There is no material without an image (abstract or figurative) there is no image without a materiality (print-based or painterly). The argument between these two strains is really what animates figurative painting these days. Although, that said, the line between the figurative and abstract has also blurred considerably over this same time frame, so that even to discern some striking pattern or two-dimensionality (in the name of abstraction) increasingly invokes print or graphics conventions. Thus repeating patterns (from say, textile or wallpaper design) are often both figurative in motif yet abstract in arrangement (see Lari Pittman through Phillip Taaffe, Jonathan Lasker to Matt Mullican, etc). Text is inevitably drawn into this equation as well.

To return to Gallo, one can see why they begin to look studied, accomplished, in a restrained, reluctant sort of way. They’re Jasper Johns via Television albums. The challenge is less in using unusual materials than in finding a content or image that will challenge or counter-balance them. At the moment the pictures seem mainly about nostalgia for me, and it’s nostalgia for something that’s too puritanical, too American.
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Re: Peter Gallo @ Horton, NYC

Postby totalrecall » Thu Oct 18, 2012 4:06 am

When you wrote this did you actually ever see the paintings? Did you see the show at Anthony Reynolds? Would you write the same review having seen the Reynolds show?
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Re: Peter Gallo @ Horton, NYC

Postby CAP » Fri Oct 19, 2012 4:13 am

As you know TR, most of the Reynolds show is old stuff by the artist (1989-2011) so it's a bit of a Gallo omnibus really, if anything with emphasis on the late 80s-early 90s stuff. But I take it he's not that prolific either, which is neither here nor there, of course. Some of it was even in the Horton show I reviewed. But nothing in the current Reynolds show from 2012 - departs radically from his preceding practice or leads me to revise my judgement. I have cited individual works via links in the above review and am satisfied my general points are supported by pertinent examples.

If you'd care to point out what you particularly admire about his work, or how the current show advances his cause in some way, please do.

That's what the WWR is all about! :)
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Re: Peter Gallo @ Horton, NYC

Postby seanhorton » Mon Oct 22, 2012 7:49 pm

I'll admit that I have a prejudice against anonymous criticism and in this case the snarky, meandering writing style of the author. The generalized cynicism here makes it hard to mine for any valid criticality. With that in mind, I'd like to point out that a substantial portion of the small portion of your "review" of Peter Gallo's show that is actually devoted to reviewing Peter Gallo's show is based on misinformation. Mr. Gallo has never exhibited at White Cube. While I don't expect an anonymous blogger to take any sort of journalistic standards too seriously, I'd like to request that you retract the statements cited below. Thank you in advance.

"Gallo showed @ White Cube. But somehow Peter never became a regular White Cubist, like say fellow Americans, Mark Bradford or Fred Tomaselli. Obviously, the vibe faded for Jay."

"Think Anselm Kiefer (another White Cube regular)."
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Re: Peter Gallo @ Horton, NYC

Postby CAP » Mon Oct 22, 2012 8:53 pm

I stand corrected on the White Cube connection, Sean. Must have got my wires crossed - confusing White Cube with White Columns. :oops: I have deleted the inaccurate sentences, as requested.

But you'll notice that the review is prefaced by a broader concern for contemporary painting and that the Gallo show serves mainly to underline salient features to this development. This may seem cynical and tedious to you but it is a matter of some importance to practising aritsts. While it's flattering to have a dealer seek out an obscure open source like WWR - where identity in no way guarantees validity of content (here it is of no interest who says it, but rather what is said) - you must appreciate that while Gallo has garnered any number of favourable reviews and even a You Tube interview, there are other perspectives on his work, entitled to their own, modest publication.
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Re: Peter Gallo @ Horton, NYC

Postby jasperjoffe » Mon Oct 22, 2012 11:00 pm

gallosist defends artist!
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