Nahmad Contemporary is currently featuring late silk screens and abstract paintings by Andy Warhol, side by side with two of the most influential contemporary artists, Christopher Wool and Wade Guyton, who similarly create bold graphic works using innovative printmaking and mechanical processing. Love them or hate them, no one can argue that Warhol (b. 1928, Pittsburgh, PA), Wool (b.1955, Chicago, IL) and Guyton (b. 1972, Hammond, IN) have had a significant impact on how artists make art and how we view the world relative to continuously changing technologies.
In his review of Wade Guyton’s mid-career retrospective at the Whitney in 2012, Peter Schjeldahl writes that “Warhol looms large for Guyton, as for all artists who deal with issues of image reproduction.” Likewise, Roberta Smith in her review of Christopher Wool’s retrospective at the Guggenheim the following year identifies Warhol’s silk screen images as an important predecessor. So, to see their works exhibited together, one can witness the historical continuum between these artists and their ongoing exploration into the relationship between the machine and the artist’s hand, working against a conventional view of painting.
The exhibition opens with Warhol’s “Knives” (1981-82). The artist’s transformation of this simple kitchen tool into a large-scale gray/black blurred print appears menacing. It is particularly effective juxtaposed against Guyton’s “Untitled (X)” (2006) which mimics the pattern in both in size and shape. The wall continues into Wool’s “Untitled” (1997) from his “patterned series” and fittingly comes to an end with Warhol’s “Crosses” (1982-82). This first wall alone reads like an apocalyptic murder mystery, with only a few clues and no personal presence, no body, to be found. But then you turn and face one of Wool’s signature stencils “ANDIF YOUCANTTAKEA JOKEYOUCANGET THE FUCKOUT OF MY HOUSE” and humor and irony return.
The fact that all three artists engage a mechanical process (silk screen press, stencils and/or digital printers, for example) contributes to the distance between the creator and the creation at the same time, disassociating the original image from its representation. This calls to mind the late cultural theorist Stuart Hall’s warning to “interrogate the image” – to understand that there is not some objective truth out there to be represented, but meaning is constantly made and remade based on how events, persons, places, things are represented, and this representation is always affirmed in relation to power. The work of these artists is particularly prescient as we embark on a seemingly dystopian present and future in which primary experience is taking a back seat and fake news and subjective and ambiguous facts and sources abound.
Nevertheless, there is something satisfying seeing all three artists embrace “the mistake,” the blur, the smear, even the occasional brushstroke in their work, which somehow still grounds the image to humanity and all its imperfections. They may be creating art in the age of mechanical reproduction, but none of the works, not even the 102 original of Warhol’s “Shadows” (1978) two of which are on display, Wade’s (Untitled) X’s and U’s (2006 & 2008) or Wool’s “Minor Mishaps” (2001) are exactly the same.
Most of the works in the exhibition are black and white with shades of gray, especially in the first room of the gallery, however leading into the second room, there is a splash of color and again, some complementary pairings. Warhol’s colorful “Eggs” (1982) on black canvas background are cleverly displayed next to more of Guyton’s primary colored (Untitled) X’s on white linen kept apart only by Wool’s blurred “Double Blue Nose” (2003)blue silkscreen. Also on display are Guyton’s “ Flame paintings” (Untitled, 2006) a simple computer typed U sitting above the fire, an image digitally reproduced on an inkjet printer on linen – leaving the viewer uncertain whether U will survive or go down in flames.
“WARHOL, WOOL, GUYTON” at Nahmad Contemporary is an important show, and a real opportunity to experience visually a cross-generational conversation about the production and reproduction of images between three luminaries of the art world. The exhibition runs until January 14, 2017.
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Writing by: Kristine Roome