CHICAGO—Stephanie Cristello reviews Party Cut for New American Paintings: “If there is something that Party Cut propagates more than a visual language, it is its subversion.”

Don’t Blow Your Cool – Rebecca Morris, Party Cut at Corbett vs. Dempsey

17 September 2013

Not very often does an abstract painting exhibition keep a level head – but the casual, unruffled discretion of Party Cut, a collection of new work by Rebecca Morris currently on view at Corbett vs. Dempsey, is refreshing in more ways than one. The quick, and perhaps even preparatory nature of the paintings holds a certain degree of immediacy –however, all too often, a discussion surrounding paintings like these is fixated on the idea of a formal language. Acutely focused on gesture, the use of line, the myriad of descriptives used for compositional devices, and other criteria that certainly applies to this work – strictly formal terms like these kill conversation if not applied correctly (let’s pretend that there is such a thing); which is to say, if they explain the medium, but miss the affect. Morris’ paintings avoid this pit fall. The repetitive forms and all-over fields of high-keyed color are charmingly typical of midcentury patterns and decoration; yet remain distanced from an ornamental context, at once attractive and idiosyncratic. And while I was admittedly surprised by the dry, stained surfaces of the works on canvas with their more moderate and measured treatment, and less brazen tactile qualities, it would be partial to say that those material qualities were the only ones driving away the initial Pop impression of the work.

The exhibition is split into two bodies of work, the first belonging to two large-scale stretched canvases that occupy the south wall, and the other a collection of smaller, framed paintings on paper – not studies, but soft edged geometric abstractions. The watercolor pieces are surprisingly more harsh than the two oil on canvas works, which maintain an unexpected crispness despite their medium. Morris’ use of multicolored splattering, masking, and otherwise playful mark-making is subverted by the expectations of the material, in the sense that the paint behaves how we are used to watercolor on paper behaving; the seductive pools of ink, pigment unevenly distributed across the surface, the surprise and uncontrollability of a consistent plane of color. The imagery registers for what it is, in one-to-one fashion – brush strokes stand in for brick walls, text and numbers are scrawled plainly over the entire surface, often referencing the artists’ monogram or year it was made, others are simply arranged by pulling from a familiar lexicon of symbols and shapes; a crescent moon, checkerboards, empty picture frames, and nondescript grids.

Rebecca Morris | 248-01, 2001, ink and watercolor on paper, 15 x 10 inches, Courtesy of Corbett vs. Dempsey.

While these pieces operate quite well on a formal level, the immediacy of their impact leaves something to be desired – something that Morris is clearly aware of. What they lack is a factor of mediation, an element that separates us from readily consuming the image. Untitled (#09-13) and Untitled (#06-13) offer just enough of an unusual touch, with the cooled flatness of a scattered composition atop a relaxed rectangular grid, or the confetti-like displacement of curved lines met with hard edges, forced into the four-sided outline contained within the center of the canvas. If there is something that Party Cut propagates more than a visual language, it is its subversion. The double register of language is contained within the title of the exhibition itself, the democratic attitude of a certain cut of pizza, as the artist explains – but further, a connotation of something both celebratory and reduced. The paintings function like the extras hired for a party scene in a movie; setting a temporary mood, yet ultimately reserved despite their showy appearance.

Rebecca Morris | Untitled (#09-13), 2013, oil and spray paint on canvas, 67 x 65 inches, Courtesy of Corbett vs. Dempsey.

(Header image) Left: Rebecca Morris, Untitled (#06-13), 2013, oil on canvas, 87 x 80”. Right: Rebecca Morris, Untitled (#09-13), 2013, oil and spray paint on canvas, 67 x 65”. Courtesy of Corbett vs. Dempsey.

Rebecca Morris’s recent exhibitions include Southafternoon, at Kunsthalle Lingen, Germany (traveling to Bonnefanten Museum, Maastrict, Holland in 2014) and an upcoming solo show at LAXART in L.A.  In 2005, she was the subject of a major solo show at the Renaissance Society; this is her first exhibition in Chicago since then.

Stephanie Cristello is an artist, curator, and writer who lives and works in Chicago, IL. 

Read the review here: New American Paintings