Stephen Prina’s career-long interest in the discourses in which art participates makes him a highly appropriate artist with whom to begin a blog called The painted wrd. For his new show, simply titled “Painting,” Prina has installed a set of three triptychs, all done on linen roller blinds, across the space of Friedrich Petzel’s smaller extension. At this particular gallery’s height, each blind is covered about halfway up in washed layers of primary colors, applied at a drippy forward diagonal. It’s a gesture just reminiscent enough of Cy Twombly’s calligraphic marks to hint at the individual artist behind the paintings’ initially solid appearances.
The vibrant results are pleasantly and even optimistically upbeat. In some, multiple layers of red and blue reinforce the blind’s function as a blocker of light; in others, thin washes of a pinky red belie this function by suggesting light’s continued ability to penetrate the linen and subvert the surface. The most visually stunning of the nine works, two yellow blinds to the left of the exhibition space, are so vibrant as to almost exude their own illumination, undermining the blind’s function altogether. They’re a big change from the inert, industrial green the artist used in his 1989 exploration of monochrome painting, or the faded sepia wash of the pieces in the ongoing work “Untitled/Exquisite Corpse: The Complete Paintings of Manet,” the indexical poster of which is also on display. In these projects, Prina covered over the immediate aesthetic content of well-known works to call attention to their “post-studio” lives as objects of historical, economic, and institutional discourse.
Displayed in the same room, the blind paintings present themselves as a tongue-in-cheek response to the not uncommon assessment of these previous pieces as “opaque.” As literal screens, they reinforce the concept of the “Exquisite Corpse” project as a supplement to a pre-existing vision. The small metal chains which accompany them signals their ability to be raised and remind the viewer to consider the institutional space which they shield. Yet, as they descend into the viewer’s space, the coverings assert their autonomy and become art objects in their own right. In doing so, they capitulate somewhat to the desire for visual excitement sometimes lacking in Prina’s intellectual notions. Luckily, it’s a successful capitulation, making the paintings some of Prina’s simplest yet most beautiful works to date.
“Painting” is open at Friedrich Petzel through April 28, 2012. Images courtesy of Friedrich Petzel.