Magazine article Artforum International

Avery Singer: Isabelle Graw

Magazine article Artforum International

Avery Singer: Isabelle Graw

Article excerpt

PAINTING, AS WE KNOW WELL BY NOW, has long since ceased to be regarded as dubious or even obsolete. Whereas artists painting in the l 970s and '80s felt obliged to justify their medium in order to rescue it from its reputation of being a highly suspicious commodity fetish, painting has since the '90s been regarded as an accepted--even radical--form of social, conceptual, and institutional critique. Entering a new, unbounded era, in part driven by the posthumous hype around the work of Martin Kippenberger and his disciples, the medium came into fashion yet again under the banner of "network painting," a loose term that imagined the artist's personal social sphere, and the passage of the art object within it, as. intrinsic to the work's materials and meaning. This approach finally broke with the modernist idea of a "pure," clearly delimited work, but it also introduced new problems: Network painting relied on the artist's nexus of social relationships, a community that OUT twenty-first-century global economy--in an intensification of the state subjugation that Michel Foucault called bio-power--is busy absorbing. Biopower signals a technology aimed at how we live, a technology that is, as Foucault aptly expressed it, -applied" to life. With the rise of new communication systems--above all, social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram--the tendency to capture life has gradually intensified. The avant-gardist claim to convey art into -life praxis," in Peter Burger's phrase, obviously becomes quite problematic as soon as this life has risen to the status of a resource highly in demand.

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The paintings of the young New York--based artist Avery Singer address precisely these problems of biopower and subjectivity and do so in a decidedly productive and perceptive way. Rather than providing the personal connections of the artist's life so intrinsic to network painting, Singer's work dramatizes and performs the life of today's artists as an idea that is as cliched as it is a Lacanian fantasy projection: from the culture of the studio visit (The Studio Visit, 2012) to the practice of meeting collectors (Jewish Artist and Patron, 2012) to performances and theatrical presentations (three paintings titled Happening, all 2014). These last works in particular demonstrate a certain longing for a '60s avant-garde poststudio practice that is particularly prevalent in the art circuits between New York and Berlin at the moment.

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Singer's paintings testify to her great fascination with the visual rhetoric of the historical avant-gardes by reactivating the formal aesthetics of Constructivism, Futurism, and Vorticism and the somber palette of grisaille. Certainly her aim is not to bring the dead avant-garde back to life--on the contrary, her work leaves no doubt as to the hopelessness of this claim. For example, Naum Gabo's relief Head of a Woman, ca. 1917-20, appears in several of her paintings: Residents Reprieve, 2014, where it stands in as the head for a kneeling figure; Exhibitionist, 2013, where it plays the role of the female figure lowering her eyes in shame; and The Great Muses, 2013, where it rests on a stage next to an assemblage reminiscent of Isa Genzken's recent sculptures. This circulation turns Gabo's stereometricism into a free-floating passe-partout that no longer reaches out into space (and hence metaphorically grasps for life) but rather figures as a two-dimensional visual element that is absorbed into the aesthetic scene as another prop. Clearly not much remains of its original utopian claims to overcoming the boundary between art and life.

In lieu of that avant-gardist opening, Singer's work activates fantasies about the life of artists today. Accordingly, her first exhibition at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler in Berlin in 2013 was called "The Artists," as if a reality show or soap opera, and like a television series, the paintings she showed there nourished and displayed projected visions about how these "artists" live and work. …

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