Magazine article Artforum International

Paul McMahon: 321 Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

Paul McMahon: 321 Gallery

Article excerpt

Paul McMahon

321 GALLERY

Paul McMahon's wonderfully strange "soft" retrospective at the artist-run 321 Gallery in Brooklyn this past fall was, for a figure so doggedly unclassifiable, sympathetically out of joint. Nestled cozily into the non-rectilinear garden level of a brownstone home in Clinton Hill, the forty-four mostly framed two-dimensional works in the show--collages, paintings, pastel drawings on newsprint, tiled postcard pieces, videos (looped together on a single monitor), posters, and mixed-media sculpture--spanned the past forty-four years of the artist's production. On the numerically related twenty-second day of what happened to be October, McMahon performed an evening song cycle in stereo--that is, silently accompanied by the lip-synching Linda Montano, who has appeared alongside the artist as a live-action double since approximately 2007.

A sprinkling of previous New York shows have sought to deal with McMahon's precarious art-historical position--mired in emergent post-Conceptualism yet predating Douglas Crimp's 1977 "Pictures" exhibition, adjacent to the CalArts mafia, and active in a nascent No Wave scene before the nihilism set in. After studying at Pomona College, he worked a day job as a gas-station attendant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and concurrently staged a series of one-evening-only shows in a storefront community center. Operating from 1972 to 1975, Project Inc. held performances and hosted exhibitions by Michael Asher, Douglas Huebler, Laurie Anderson, and John Knight, and saw the first East Coast solo shows of David Salle and Jack Goldstein. The series culminated when McMahon was drafted by Helene Winer to work (briefly) as assistant director at Artists Space; this particular proximity compelled curator Douglas Eklund to include McMahon's postcard collages and pastel-saturated newsprint images in the 2009 exhibition "The Pictures Generation, 1974-1984" at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The subtle ironic distance in McMahon's sociable--not overly theoretical--practice and his reliance on poor-quality materials and diverse ephemeral activity often tangled with the divisive issues of his time, some specific to the art world (painting and its futures, a newly reflexive role for photography) and some not (the aids crisis), without consolidating into a clear object or picture. Reviewing a set of 1993 exhibitions of McMahon's at two now-defunct SoHo galleries, Roberta Smith described his characteristically scrappy production as somewhat iconoclastic and "not altogether endearing. …

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