Magazine article Artforum International

Patrick Caulfield

Magazine article Artforum International

Patrick Caulfield

Article excerpt

HAYWARD GALLERY, LONDON

My, how time flies - six years on, and Patrick Caulfield's up for another retrospective. (The last one was at London's Serpentine Gallery, in 1992-93.) It's one of those things a person can rely on, a little like the eternal return of the commodity. (In fact, a lot like it.) The Hayward Gallery is currently stocking fifty-five jazzy, glowing Caulfield desirables, dating from 1961 to 1997, most of them expertly handcrafted in genuine acrylics. The best place to start window-shopping is right in the middle, at the precooked meals section, with exhibit number 28: Unfinished Painting, 1978.

This work sets a place for the viewer and serves up a lavish slice of buttery, golden-yellow, store-bought quiche. Yes, it's all for you. This central, photorealist passage of the painting hovers above the picture plane like a migraine aura (as opposed to the high-art sort, though the Benjaminian notion hovers around here too). Actually, the label "photorealist" needs qualification: This section of the painting mimics the particular coloration and styling of a '70s cookbook or recipe leaflet so perfectly that one almost expects to see the words "serving suggestion" lurking nearby. Around this central portion, or behind it, the rest of the dining room spreads out in the simplified, flat-colored planes and hard-edged black outlines that make up Caulfield's hallmark style. The painting's edges are fringed with roughly applied white primer and bare canvas, simulating "unfinishedness." The hand serving the quiche, also primer-white, emerges from the edge, directly connecting the border's "gestural" brushwork with the gesture of serving up ersatz "home cooking" and, in doing so, insisting on the simulated nature of both pie and painting. The arm of the server is the painter's arm, and thus the viewing of the painting is conflated with the (simultaneously seductive and sick-making) idea of consuming warmed-over quiche.

How much more bald an assertion of painting's commodity status can one get? Admittedly, this isn't the orthodox take: Caulfield's work is usually read as a jolly but ultimately dignified homage to modernist masters of the still life such as Juan Gris and Cezanne. This particular brand of Pop tends to be viewed as a rearguard gesture, an absorption of mass-market material into fine art to spice up the latter and demonstrate its transformative power. At no point, apparently, should the fact that Caulfield's work is immersed in the world of the simulated and the commodified - of instant paella and Swiss-style muesli, of rustic finishes, "Scandinavian" interiors, and '70s wipe-clean vinyl wallpaper - be understood to have a leveling effect on the high-art sources to which he also refers, or on the auratic status of his own work. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.