Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pace Gallery 510 West 25st. James Siena, through April 30th

James Siena a the Pace Gallery

James Siena is an artist that I've heard a great deal about over the years, and I'm sure I've seen some of his work before. In fact I've probably seen a show of his at some point, but he's someone I know more about from what I've heard than seen. He's know for his repetitive geometric abstract paintings that are done on a very small scale, and are painted with enamel on thick sheets of aluminum. The way he works is by creating some kind of pre-established rule or measured unit, and slowly builds out from that. He refers to it as a "visual algorithm", and each painting has its own original one. The result is a variety of different images. Some paintings are very hard edged and geometric, some are cartoon like and quasi figurative, and some have the character of a never ending doodle.
I've heard his work called intimate, and musical, and I guess those are both good adjectives. To me though the small scale just seems constrained, and stiflingly so. Also, the repetitive way the imagery is painted seems very mechanical, not to mention labored. This must be intentional, because the materials have such strong mechanical associations, but I don't understand what's gained by depersonalizing the work. There are a number of etchings in the show which seem even colder, and more mechanical. One out of every five or six images was kind of pretty, but for the most part these are not attractive paintings. I kept thinking that on some level this must be a parody of geometric abstraction, but none of the literature I've read on him seems to suggest so.
In the back room of the gallery, Siena has a group of more figurative paintings and prints. They're images of monster heads, and close up sexual organs. This caused me to look at the repetitive patterns of the first room differently. It gave the work a kind of pre adolescent therapeutic quality. I'm not sure if that makes it any more interesting though. Maybe I'm just missing something. I do that sometimes.

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