Magazine article Artforum International

Elizabeth Neel: Deitch Projects

Magazine article Artforum International

Elizabeth Neel: Deitch Projects

Article excerpt

Elizabeth Neel is an accomplished painter, though it's not clear what, specifically, her accomplishment is. Her paintings are fourth-, fifth-, sixth- (I've lost count) generation samples of Abstract Expressionist painting. She is struggling hard to renew the meaningfulness of passionate gesture, but her gestures, while passionate, do not themselves seem to have much meaning. If, as Harold Rosenberg wrote, "the test of [the] seriousness [of action painting] is the degree to which the act on the canvas is an extension of the artist's effort to make over his [or her] experience," then Neel doesn't so much take the test as sidestep its challenge.

To her credit, she lives the experience of painting, which is not to say she has transformed the experience of living into her painting. Instead of being made over, bits and pieces of her experience float like debris in a Sargasso Sea of painterliness. But hers seems to be an experience of the history of gestural painting; we don't see the residue--memory traces--of the own life story. In Humpndump, 2008, a schematic fragment of a female body rises from a gestural swamp, holding our attention because some of its details seem de Kooning-esque. Neel's paintings, in the gestures and shapes they contain, seem haunted by ghosts of past accomplishments, a quality that suggests they are reprises--remembrances of past art that do it some justice, but that don't share its presence. Reworking Abstract Expressionism doesn't necessarily make it work again but does remind us that it once worked well, as its evocative power indicates. …

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