Cecily Brown is showing right now at Gagosian Gallery on 24th street. This is the best contemporary painting show that I have seen in New York this year. Its outstanding.
I always have a hard time believing in contemporary painting and often get stuck on this blocking question of why the artist chose paint to illustrate his or her idea. Why not photography? Why paint an idea when you can take a picture of it? Why paint an idea when you could write about it? (Lawrence Weiner perfectly demonstrates this at Dia:Beacon in his series, 5 Figures of Structure, 1987.) Brown bulldozes this question with over 15 large canvases. (She displays smaller works as well, which I cared much less about.)
Brown is a paint's painter. A painterly colorist who, upon seeing the work I posted above, you may be tempted to associate with Pollock. And that's okay, this is of course deliberate. In person this comparison will be made far less often, as you will start to pick out the figures, the shapes, the structure of each painting. This can only be imagined in Pollock's works (you want to argue with me? fine.) Yet, Brown carves her works with brushstrokes, not splashes. She forcefully applies each color in a motion that you can absolutely feel.
The figures and shapes in her works reference history paintings hanging in Musee D'Orsay, in the Louvre, and in the Met uptown. Yet the figures in her grandiose scenes are called pornographic rather than nude. Their poses are vulgar, not sweet. With this, Brown flawlessly falls into contemporary art with a jarring stamp of approval. Genius.
I first saw this show with a friend of mine on a 70 gallery tour of Chelsea that took over 6 hours and less than 5 minutes in each space. We were exhausted and totally art-ed out and could barely form words much less thoughts in the last 20 or so stops. Yet when we stepped into Cecily's arena (quite unintentionally our very last stop, squeezed into the last 5 min of gallery hours) we both froze. Our eyes widened and smiles began to form, and we looked at each other in astonishment. This was good. Really good. We both immediately fell in love with the beauty before us and wanted to kiss these canvases in thanksgiving. Both of us are straying painters who haven't actually painted in a while. The next weekend we went home and started painting again without each others knowledge. Cecily Brown makes painting look so fun. She is the best painter on the market right now, yet her works are not in any way intimidating. They make the viewer feel like we can paint like that too. You'll feel it. Go see Cecily.