Magazine article Artforum International

David Salle: LEVER HOUSE

Magazine article Artforum International

David Salle: LEVER HOUSE

Article excerpt

Lever House, the Miesian, midcentury skyscraper designed by Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, has become, in recent years, a deluxe site for the exhibition of contemporary art. The installations there are visible through--though often harried by--the building's broad glass curtain walls that front onto Park Avenue.

In order to ameliorate the distractions of the sudden shafts of light glancing off the neighboring office buildings and the roaring traffic's boom, architect Christian Hubert, working with curator Richard Marshall, hung gauzy scrims battened by rectangles of wood upon which David Salle's large paintings were mounted. The six horizontal works, presented under the title "Tapestries / Battles / Allegories," were given intriguing names, though the paintings as exhibited carry no identifying labels. Thus, the visitor was hard-pressed to determine which canvas was, say, Campaign (all works 2012), as at least two works could easily have served as representative of a military theme. Another work was presumably The River, as it visually references, among other works, George Caleb Bingham's Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, 1845, that gem of antebellum American genre painting.

But aren't the vagaries of nomenclature rather the point? That the viewer remains unsure as to the identity of the works underscores their multivalency and, in that sense, their continuing claim as representative postmodern efforts. Salle's magpie borrowings tend to drive out meaning through referential excess. In this counterintuitive way, the artist invites us to experience his paintings as untethered from literary source or pictorial model, perhaps even as arrangements of pure sensory stimuli.

Yet to argue that Salle was focused on an art of existential effect (as if following a thread leading from Suprematism through Abstract Expressionism) smacks terribly of casuistry, since, from the outset of his notable career, the ocean of ciphers in which he has luxuriated have begged to be decoded. Indeed, no artist of the past four decades (with the initiatory exception of Robert Rauschenberg) is as associated with such a catholicity of readings in response to pictorial references. …

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