Boy Walking and Cinnamon: Sculptures and Paintings
Anton Kern Gallery
September 9 - October 24, 2020
By JONATHAN GOODMAN October 9, 2020
Tal R is an expressionist artist in his fifties who lives and works in Denmark. This current show involves patinated bronze sculptures, shown for the first time in his career, and paintings, often of traditional themes such as still lifes and interiors, that manage to be both luminous and dark. In some ways, his work reminds us of a different time--when modernism was in sway and the pursuit of a deliberate beauty was not neglected. At the same time, Tal R introduces an intentional awkwardness, perhaps more in the three-dimensional work than in the paintings, that links him to the present day. The setting of the show, in a gallery located in the heart of New York's well-to-do midtown, off Fifth Avenue, needs to be noted, as it frames a body of work with artistic ambition, in the nearby presence of the Museum of Modern Art. Given the links of the sculpture and paintings, which demonstrate full familiarity with European modernism, to the past, we can acknowledge the show’s historical underpinnings even as we recognize its originality and innovation.
For this writer, the show’s sculpture is particularly meaningful. The installation of this work, located in the back room of the gallery’s first floor, introduces a nostalgia for the past, given the sculptures’ traditional material, patinated bronze, and their generally figurative orientation. Here, more than with the paintings, Tal R develops a slightly eccentric stance, in which rough forms adhere to and move beyond the images they depict, while their surface is often rough as well, making the pieces as much a critique of, as well as a homage to, the earlier artists he may be quoting (in some pieces, the sculpture of Matisse comes to mind). In Adidas Boy (2019), a standing youth reminiscent of a Greek kouros has a balloon-like pant leg that must reference the baggy synthetic athletic trousers Adidas makes; otherwise, the form is nearly classical--a young man with a ponytail and an arm raised proceeding in a recognizably manner. The confrontation between the old and the new is quite rough, even confrontational, but it manages to place Tal R equally in art history and in the present, in a work that transcends any easy definition of historical and contemporary affinities. In another sculpture, Rose (2020), a figure with a shapeless vertical oval of a body stands with one leg high, bent at the knee. Above the headless trunk, the figure’s hands form a circle. Thus, the artist establishes an archaic aura for the work, something to be found in most all of the sculptures.
The paintings are more reliably modernist in their style. In the painting Untitled (Flowers), done this year, we see a yellow vase, pinched in the middle with a brown right edge, holding three flowers with orange heads on a dark purple, flat surface. It is a bit naif, but at the same time shows a remarkable visual poise--the kind of thing we come to expect from the artist, whose allegiances are to an elegant simplicity. Bat, Puppet, and Yellow (2020) shows three objects standing on a brown table: a small sculpture, in dark green, of a bat with circular wings; a standing puppet with a blue and yellow fabric body and a face given simply in black; and a gray vase holding several flowers. Tal R’s emotionally expressive style is mediated by the darker colors he uses and the simple shapes in the painting. It includes a sculpture of his own making, and thus supports his accomplishments as an artist through self-reference.
In sum, in this very good show, Tal R’s viewers find an expressive presence that is based on feeling. His atmospheric conveyance of color and form indicates that he is devoted to communicating with his audience in a traditional manner. Now that so much art is devoted to theory and politics, his position may seem old-fashioned. But that is far from the case; in fact, we need an art whose achievement depends on an emotional grasp of its themes. Traditional subjects, such as Greek sculpture and the still life, hover closely over the exhibition, which offers a bit of solace to those seeking some continuity with the past. This is not to say Tal R is a conservative in his practice; rather, he intends a historically oriented sincerity in which we can all take pleasure, taken as we are by the integrity of his purpose. WM
Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications.
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