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A quick overview of three shows I saw today:
Most embarrassing is probably Sean Landers at Andrea Rosen. A film critic said recently "You know a movie's in trouble when it includes a scene with one or more characters tied to a chair"; you could say the same about artists riffing on art history. Landers is doing big dumb Picasso paintings, with smeary impastos and monotonous cloisonne outlines around every facet and figure. I talked to a few of Landers' Yale-ophilic defenders, and they're justifying the show as "Sean coming to terms with the fact that he'll never be the biggest." Yuck. One thing it proves for sure, that's how much George Condo hurt his career by moving to Paris in the late '80s. If he'd stayed in New York those seven or eight years, channeling Picasso in show after show (as he did in Europe), even someone as oblivious as Landers would know how thoroughly "done" this strategy is.
I've been on the fence about Steve di Benedetto's work the past couple of shows; it's seemed overworked and fussy, not sure enough of what it's about. The new work at Baumgartner is good, though. Just when you think a painting couldn't get any more dense with organic, barnacle-like detail, suddenly a section opens up with a dynamic starburst or taut abstract fugue. The primordial octopus-from-another-dimension, which I felt he was hiding in earlier paintings, here unfurls its tentacles defiantly. The paintings nicely balance the gothic decrepitude of Ivan Albright with the futuristic energy of Matta, without being an overt homage to either.
Last, Rita McBride's show at Alexander & Bonin--at the opposite end of the form/content/materiality spectrum from di Benedetto's--is also top-notch. Very clean, mint green, geometric-looking sculptures are based on the exact outlines of arcade video games. No signage, no joysticks, just the stripped-down, squared-off essence of Xevious, Libble Rabble, and Ms. Pac Man (or so I imagine). I could see a recent UCLA graduate doing this sort of thing poorly, but McBride is a whiz with materials. The consoles, built entirely of porcelain-coated steel, have the blank-but-comforting surfaces of '50s refrigerators. The rest of the show--featuring other minimalist-type works modeled on awnings, HVAC vents, and parking garages--is good, but the video games really stand out.