Curated by David Gibson and Thomas Jaeckel
532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel
532 West 25th Street, New York NY 10001
September 4 – September 29, 2008
Reception: Thursday, Sept 4, 6-9 PM
JAC LAHAV: Frida Kahlo
Each of these artists has made a traditional practice of painting into a signature motif. Yet they are not merely making rote, reliable, and commonplace versions. They are working in the periphery of that traditional practice, reaching for achievement beyond recognizable limits, making what is usually considered an acceptable form into something rigorous and subtle. Both artists ask the same questions: what is this form, and how far can I take it?
In Berens’s landscapes, we are at first made conscious that he is setting the scene, in terms equal to the theatrical practice of dramaturgy. This is connected to his sense of place, having been brought up in the Midwest, and then studying in California, but soon after moving to New York to pursue his art career, he has lived here for more than two decades. Having resided so consistently in one place has not numbed the artist’s sensitivity to the depictive nuances of place; instead it has produced an alliterative impulse. Berens’s city is not just a place; it is a multitude of places, as many as there are impressions to be had. Shop Window (2002) is one of my favorites. You can just picture the scene in some lost moment of your own experience: the reflection of street lamps in the dead of night, glimmering against the oppressive darkness, silhouetted by the otherwise unseen slope of the avenue. The image is wistful and nostalgic while remaining a real, everyday sensory event. It is a combination of the spatial and metaphysical qualities of the city as only someone with a developed sense of space, scale, and light can perceive it.
Lahav’s portraits certainly have their role in historical practice, though how they fit into such a canon remains to be seen. A recent graduate of Brooklyn College, the artist has devoted himself to a practice, which might be viewed as obsolescent. But in doing so he has broken down all of the familiar associations we have of it. Appearing in his paintings are neither family nor friends, nor images commissioned by specific patrons, but rather a commingling of his Jewish heritage with the efficacies of visual culture, the image usually consigned to press photographs. His “48 Jews” and his “Great Americans” series both depict well known figures who belong in our appreciative regard for their status as individuals and their contributions to culture. Yet their Jewishness is the one factor, which, though it may never have been questioned, was hardly brought to bear. By bringing images of figures ranging from music (Bob Dylan, Slash, Barry Manilow) together with political and corporate figures (Alan Dershowitz, Fidel Castro, Jeffrey Sachs, Leon Trotsky), along with artists and philosophical or critical thinkers (Harold Rosenberg, Clement Greenberg, Cindy Sherman, Lee Krasner, Martin Buber, Noam Chomsky), he creates a continuum of identity which can only be ascertained when we consider something more. Lahav creates a virtual forest of combative identities, the private against the public, the personal of one person versus another. The range of painterly depiction in such portraits, which alternates between the realistic, the impressionistic, and the surreal, creates a fabric of names and images which do not always jibe with what we may think of such figures, but which may forever after inform how we view them: as figments of an imagination that dreams up facts while it invents the idea of culture.