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James Viscardi: Present Perfect

James Viscardi, The Audience is Listening, 2013, oil on canvas, 72” x 62.” Courtesy of Ana Cristea Gallery.

James Viscardi, The Audience is Listening, 2013, oil on canvas, 72” x 62.” Courtesy of Ana Cristea Gallery.

Ana Cristea Gallery - New York

By Stephen Truax

Ana Cristea, New York, is in Chelsea, but this show looks straight out of Bridgehampton. Literally, a summer show of beach and leisure scenes.

“Regional,” bad and provisional paintings have become unmistakable markers of contemporary art. This, I propose, is precisely the content underneath James Viscardi’s deceptively simple paintings. As in his first exhibition “Recreational Modernism,” 2012, at Peter Amby Gallery, Copenhagen, in his first solo show in the United States “Present Perfect,” 2013, Viscardi presents a cornucopia of tropes-the nude, the still life, the abstract grid-in off-key pastels.

His quotations of Modernist art history are so overt that the paintings seem collaged together from the plates of a 20th century art history textbook. Viscardi creates a network of references between symbols, signs and multiple art historical styles, including Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Bay Area Expressionism, etc. His brush work is deliberately ham-fisted- not de-skilled, a la Twombly or Mitchell-but rather, brushmarks almost in quotations, as in the Pictures Generation.

These paintings could easily be assignments given to art students asked to rifle through recent art history in a survey method to teach them how painting has “evolved” in the last century. Yet, in this context, the project becomes more than ironic, more than a bad joke, more than a painting one might encounter in a dentist’s office.

At outset, you might walk right out of the gallery, but his project is surprisingly difficult. Paintings which look, for all intents and purposes, straight out of Provincetown manage to imbue these tired and predictable devices with content. The “curating” of Viscardi’s images is nuanced.

In The Audience is Listening a beautiful nude rests perhaps in a park by the ocean, lounging at a picnic, dining on “signs” of fruit. The volumetric form of the figure is described by simple planes of color, recalling the Slade School of Art in London’s signature drawing/measuring style, as in the work of English figure painters such as Euan Uglow. The effect is sculptural, solid. Bits of the figure’s legs seem to float away, disjointed, as in a Braque painting. One errant shoe described by a single abstract shape (almost disappearing into the background) and a doodle of shoelace seems to be a nod to David Hockney.

One outlier canvas is totally abstract, composed of horizontal and vertical brushstrokes that are at broken along a vertical fault line; but you realize it’s the same gingham pattern of the picnic blankets found throughout the rest of his “leisure” paintings. Gingham has become a signature for Viscardi.

Viscardi locates the sexuality of his paintings neither at grotesque nor seductive. Instead, they hover between revulsion and attraction. It is a kind of neutered, adolescent view of the possibility of sex in painting. This level of remove keeps the halved lemons, angular watermelon slices and bootilicious apple asses from ever really becoming more than symbols of sexual expression. Instead of sex, we are presented with a facsimile, not unlike a David Salle painting, as opposed to Balthus.

Indeed, finding Viscardi’s paintings is like rediscovering a favorite pop song from your childhood or 15 years ago which had been played into unbearable tedium. Yet, upon re-listening, you locate something that is a combination of true poetic beauty; your new, adult interpretation; and a rush of emotional memory.

(June 28 - August 3, 2013)

Stephen Truax is a conceptual artist and curator based in Brooklyn.

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