Andrew Guenther: Bucket Rider Gallery
Grabner, Michelle, Artforum International
Primitive motifs have seeped back into painting of late as a method of denoting, if not embodying, "pure" subjectivity: Katherine Bernhardt's Neue Wilde--esque figures and Mark Grotjahn's cardboard mask constructions are two examples among many. This revival should come as no surprise--the impulse to establish and communicate sovereign selfhood remains fundamental, and the currently fatted marketplace only encourages its indulgence, since the fear of commercial failure still often trumps the desire to avoid played-out tropes.
In the paintings of Andrew Guenther, the primitive reappears in signifiers of opposition and difference, which take the form of masks, coconuts, and juxtaposed complementary colors. Still, the results are oddly calm--unruffled and unruffling. Guenther employs compositional symmetry, a practiced blend of staining and impasto, and an enormous formal variety characterized by a complex layering of color to achieve visually striking results. Yet his obvious desire to inhabit unsettling "forbidden" (or at least alien) thematic territory is trounced almost entirely by this purely material richness. Your Family's Medical History (all works 2006), for example, is a large canvas depicting a male nude in a dense stand of tropical foliage marked with decorative starbursts. The figure's face is dark and his simply painted almond-shaped eyes slip from their anatomical location onto the surface of the painting where they multiply and float in front of the figure's cheek and unkempt hair. A pair of coconut-shell breasts that are attached to the surface of the canvas cast bright green painted shadows on the figure's spherical orange gut. In purely visual terms, Guenther's use of the tropical fruit is a strategy as bracing as Chris Ofili's use of elephant dung, but the work as a whole lacks any substantial emotional heft. …