Magazine article Artforum International

Walter Robinson: University Galleries of Illinois State University

Magazine article Artforum International

Walter Robinson: University Galleries of Illinois State University

Article excerpt

NORMAL, IL

Walter Robinson

UNIVERSITY GALLERIES OF ILLINOIS STATE UNIVERSITY

As Walter Robinson's paintings have evolved, they've come to serve as an uncannily accurate gauge for the American art world's analogously shifting, and increasingly nuanced, attitudes toward consumerism and mass culture. The artist's early-1980s works--straightforward depictions of drugstore purchases, Budweiser beer cans, a plastic My Little Pony figurine, and Robinson's personal friends, the artists Martin Wong and Mike Bidlo and critic Carlo McCormick--feature banal subjects facilely scumbled in acrylic paint and initially registered as an ironic wink to the viewer. The portraits possessed enough verisimilitude to crosswire neo-expressionism's value systems, thus achieving a knowing postmodern position to which much of the '80s New York art world (in which Robinson was heavily involved as an artist and critic) aspired. Yet today, these same paintings look remarkably earnest. Even works featuring unabashedly cliched subjects--large-scale representations of bright-eyed kittens and children's plush toys--register to the contemporary viewer as evidence of the artist's passion for the medium.

The show, an exhilarating array of ninety-four paintings, was organized by Barry Blinderman, director of University Galleries and a colleague of Robinson's since 1980 (the year they met through the artist's collective Colab in New York). For this exhibition, the artist's first museum survey, Blinderman selected and installed paintings thematically, avoiding chronological organization and therefore eschewing the rote display of the evolving technical dexterity that inevitably comes from a thirty-five-year commitment to the medium. He instead focused on Robinson's engagement with the psychology of mass consumption by grouping and juxtaposing related subjects and genres.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The largest of the five galleries featured a wall installed with iconic toiletry paintings, which ranged from a monumental depiction of body moisturizer titled Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion, 1984, to an equally majestic blue-and-green jar from the same year, titled Vicks Vaporub. The gallery also displayed four viscously rendered cheeseburger paintings (all 2012), two abstractly articulated plates of Chinese food (both 1994), and a miscellany of paintings spanning Robinson's career portraying frontal views of whiskey bottles, cigarettes, pastries, and painkillers. …

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