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October 2007, Pearl C. Hsiung: The Karnowsky/Hammer Axis: Eroto Erupto Infinito @ Steve Turner Contemporary

October 2007,  Pearl C. Hsiung: The Karnowsky/Hammer Axis: Eroto Erupto Infinito @ Steve Turner Contemporary
Pearl C. Hsiung @ Eroto Erupto Infinito @ Steve Turner Contemporary

The Karnowsky/Hammer Axis

Pearl C. Hsiung @ Eroto Erupto Infinito @ Steve Turner Contemporary

Sept 8th – October 6th 2007


The landscape of contemporary painting within many international cities has produced, over the last ten years, a teeming pot of splintered interests and energetic, bastardized genealogies. Aside from the more visible hubs of New York and London enjoying the spotlight, an unlikely set of European cites has also coughed up groupings of painters from the Rauch’s and Weischer’s of Leipzig, to the Maciejowski’s and Ghenie’s of Krakow and Cluj. A panoply of styles and political concerns lighting a flame to the ever ragged debates regarding the state of painting and its cultural currency (and the hard cash it obviously continues to demand globally).

Following no doubt the Saussurean use of the terms Langue and Parole, October super-boy Yves Alain Bois once likened, with lip-curled Duchampian irony, the condition and assessment of the ‘death’ of painting to the game, chess. He observed a naïve confusion of the finality of a game with the ending of the systemic, abstract rules that conduct its logic, arguing that the game does not end, only particular games that manifest its being. If one is to take this idea of the role and function of language (some might say a transcendentalising of language) and transport it to the current climate in the city of Los Angeles, Bois and Duchamp alike might find the testing of their beloved game with the breakages and ruptures of a standard B-1 to C-3. Unlike the often rigidity of systemic logic however, languages like that of contemporary painting appear far more mutable and irreverent. In Los Angeles now we have an environment where different realities of make-believe co-exist via skid row to Malibu, with the neo-slacks of the Merry Karnowsky gallery (Camille Rose Garcia, Richard Coleman et-al) and the art-central MFA globes of Art Center, Cal Arts and UCLA (with the attendant commercial spaces in tow to polish the likes of emergent Korty’s and Greene’s). Like its many sub-cites LA does fractured-cosmology better than most and the painters or painters (depending on disposition and/or education) are in plentiful supply. To really map out this abundance here would lead to a kind of comic-book-criticism best avoided yet it’s within this sense of lingual white-noise that the paintings of LA based Pearl Hsiung find their sense of selves and us alongside them, somewhat complicit but never, thankfully, fully involved.

Hsiung’s work over the last six years has been a journey, much like her own physical relocation from LA to London and back once more to her native LA, graduating in 2001 from the Goldsmiths (MA program) that produced the bulk of 90’s yBa muscle and the likes of Glenn Brown, Paul Morrison and more recently Nigel Cooke. Her early work bore the warring scars of an art-college induced empirical self-knowing with an ephemeral stream of consciousness that, I would suggest, is more attuned to her instinctive disposition. The early result (despite critical and commercial success) was a slack-handed style, winning people over with a dirty confusion that rubbed against the emblematic, neo-conceptual neatness of the Baudrillardian Brown and a generation of British painters who became obsessed with the mechanics of an B-1 to C-3 by means of a nostalgic and loyal acceptance to received canons of recent cultural capital (Hume, Davenport, Harvey and Morrison, to name but a few are all guilty but not charged).

Since Hsiung’s relocation back to LA her work has found the subject it longingly lacked in the urban angularity and temperate gloom of London’s inner packed density and physical immediacy. Obvious comparisons will be made, not just to the likes of Rose Garcia and aspects of the Karnowsky stable but also to the more venerated Laura Owens, sub-divisions of LA weirdness and surreal-cosmologies that have been alluded to in the blurb of pop-shows like the recent Eden’s Edge at the UCLA Hammer. Hsiung’s work does indeed belong with such groupings in part but tails-off in its relationship to a lack of forced intention and a fragile understanding of cultural placement (let’s call it the Karnowsky/Hammer axis). Essentially what we’re talking about here is the site and movement of these paintings in a reading of them from varying cultural perspectives. Paintings like ‘Boulder Dash’ do not so much talk about aspects of a jaded west coast liberalism but kinda ooze symptomatic qualities that are present in do-it-yourself fly-posters, faded trance-party banners and self-taught Venice beach cosmos-painting. In this way Hsiung manages to talk about stuff in a round about fashion, giving space for rumination in the process. The tension held between an MFA knowingness and her couldn’t-care-less bravura glue the show together at Steve Turner in a way that other recent LA painting shows have failed to manage. This is also largely due to the varied means by which the paint-stuff ends up on her canvases, where applications of spray paint and graphic edge are combined with subtle washes, globular drips and intricate fine-brush detail (think Pittman and Ruscha interbred in a dark moist setting with Von Hellerman & Maloney), holding together from reciprocities both far and near where earlier work did not. In this sense Hsuing has the potential to be seen in a ball-park close to that of Owens and Prieto but of a distinctly different emotional temperament. That temperament is far more symptomatic and embodies qualities that her elder stateswomen have often considered passé… namely the ability to mean what she does without recourse to a muted, often subtle, aesthetics of apology. Bold Statement maybe, but in saying that Hsiung still has quite some way to go. In finding subjects and processes worthy of deeper discovery, the challenge is now to take these premises to places that embody even further really strange to the viewer as opposed to merely designating a strangeness that is simultaneously very familiar a la LA. Like Michel De Certeaux’s meandering urban subject…. choosing tactics of movement through physical spaces that parallel a linguistic movement of the spoken word in language… game playing within systemic structures. Hsiung’s movements are engaging indeed, equally in what latent possibility they hold as to what’s there for us today. It will be interesting to see how she shakes her thing over the next decade or so.


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Neal Rock



Neal Rock is a British artist living and working in Los Angeles, California. He has exhibited extensively across Europe and the with shows such as, 'Expander' Royal Academy of Arts London, 'Extreme Abstraction', Albright Knox Buffalo, 'Landscape Confection' Wexner Centre Ohio and Orange County Museum of Art California and 'Jerwood Contemporary Painters' Jerwood Space, London. His work has appeared in numerous publications from the 's Guardian and Independent newspapers to Vogue and Art Review magazine. He is represented by fa projects, London, Torch gallery Amsterdam and Kontainer gallery Los Angeles.  


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