Magazine article Artforum International

Carroll Dunham

Magazine article Artforum International

Carroll Dunham

Article excerpt

METRO PICTURES

When critics talk about Carroll Dunham, the artist they usually mention next is Philip Guston, who, in his late style, also employed crude figuration and garish colors. But if critics invoke Guston to signal a precedent shift from abstraction to figuration, what they often fail to note is that the "Klan" paintings of the '70s refer back to his pre-AbEx career as a young social realist. Thirty-some years later, Guston depicts himself as the man beneath the hood, turning self-righteous idealism into self-loathing realism.

This sadder-but-wiser routine is the opposite of Dunham's move, the classic modernist reach back into childhood for the primitive. The awkward, intensely animated figures and heavy outlines recall not only the cartoon but also children's art. Dunham explicitly refers to a drawing by his young daughter in the best painting here, Once I Land On Mars (Copied From Grace) (all works 1999), in which goofy, sightless figures erupt from the sides of a high-rise building, brandishing weapons and baring teeth. The painting plays to Dunham's strengths: simplified forms and a stark composition that feels just right. He also has a terrific sense of color, on display here at maximum saturation--but then, this kind of painting necessarily narrows color choices.

When images veer so close to the graphic, an artist often feels obliged to insist on the painterly quality of the work, to remind us that it is a tactile object. …

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