Nicole Wittenberg "The Malingerers"

Freight and Volume

poster for Nicole Wittenberg "The Malingerers"

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In an age of sound bites sandwiched by social media excess and information overload, Nicole Wittenberg's paintings are a refreshing antidote. Distilled down to their essentials, Wittenberg's work - whether her “Skype” portraits, her architectural interiors, or her landscapes – offers up a complicated contemporary universe reduced to a skeletal framework. Its elegant brevity is not dissimilar to symphonic variations on a theme: one frame, presented in a multitude of ways, a sure and pared-down message conveyed as directly and with as much brevity as possible.

Wittenberg’s subject reflects her fascination with, and personal experience of bohemia and high society. In works such as Countess (London on March 19th, 2011), we are confronted by a decadent mask of aristocracy, gone awry - at once chilling and certainly enigmatic. Her version, as it were, of the classic Bunuel film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie resonates well with viewers familiar with pulped news coverage of Lady Di’s final days; royalty obscured by the paparazzi’s repetitive and blinding flash. Ironic for a figurative painter there is a kind of facelessness here, a distinct remove and distancing from emotion which Wittenberg expertly captures; we cannot read the inner turmoil of her subjects, we can only conjecture.

Like a seasoned reporter, Wittenberg remains impassive and hidden behind her fluid brushwork as she explores a jaundiced generation. In works like Jean Eric 2, for example, two couples are intertwined in spooned but frozen embrace; the composition seems coolly choreographed. There is a Great Gatsby-like sensibility to many of her tableaus, in particular her ocean liner staterooms and the emptiness in works such as Wallpaper Co-pilot. She appears to say: The party is over, it’s 4 am, the guests have gone home and/or passed out…but of course we know the party is never over, coffee will be served shortly as well as the inevitable Bloody Marys and Mimosas, and soon the moveable feast will pick up and resume where it left off. Yet that still moment, that space in between movement, is what characterizes Wittenberg’s best work.

These are deft, spry, stylish paintings, composing a narrative unusual for an artist of her age - stories brimming with intelligence and wit. Having recovered from a debilitating spinal accident early on in life, the artist has emerged with a voice and presence at once self-assured and sharply insightful into human behavior.

Nicole Wittenberg was born in San Francisco in 1979. She received her BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and held her first solo exhibition at San Francisco’s Masterworks Gallery in 2003. She is represented in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass. and Colby College Museum of Art, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, the Farnsworth Museum of Art, and the Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Recently she was awarded the American Academy of Arts and Letters coveted John Koch award for best young figurative painter. The award winners were chosen from a group of 38 artists who had been invited to participate in the Invitational Exhibition of Visual Arts, which opened on March 8, 2012. The members of this year’s award selection committee were: Lois Dodd, Wolf Kahn, Alex Katz, Malcolm Morley, Thomas Nozkowski, Judy Pfaff, Dorothea Rockburne, Peter Saul, and Joel Shapiro (Chairman). Wittenberg was also recently featured in this year’s edition of the Brucennial. She lives and works in New York City.

In the video room this month we are pleased to present two works by Noah Klersfeld, a documenter as well as sociologist of behavior and the human condition. In Payroll and I Cant Get You Out of My Head, an invisible director oversees the daily ebb and flow of pedestrians, cars, buses, subway riders and other city inhabitants, as they go about their daily life. The work shares a repetitive gesture and passion for pattern with a classic Eisenstein film, bringing that magisterial omniscience into sharp contemporary focus by using a voiceover (presumably the artist’s) “choreographing” the movements of the subjects – only added after the fact. Like Wittenberg, Klersfeld shares a talent and desire for impartial observation and minimalism: utilizing a frame-by-frame dissection of society, he reduces the interaction and directions of the players to their essentials.

[Image: "Rainbow Man 2012" (2011) Oil on panel 24" x 18"]



from May 24, 2012 to June 30, 2012

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