"The Best Art In The World"
Julia Rooney: Album
January 20 through February 18, 2023
By ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST, February 2023
Julia Rooney’s show of paintings at Freight+Volume is both strong, and utterly of our Post-Postmodernist moment in that every single artwork in it has been constructed according to a different set of rules. Which is to say that acquiring a signature style, the longtime drive of a working artist, particularly early in their career, is out of the window. Which is just as the artist intended.
“One of the things that is often pushed on artists is to develop a stylistic language which is recognizable and frankly easier to market. I think that’s what it has a lot to do with,” Rooney said. “In this show particularly, I wanted every painting to operate on its own logic, The logic is the question of: how does an image get made? And I think we live in a time where images are so privileged as the way that we see, the way we consume. A painting is a very complex object. What’s so amazing about painting is that it resists being an image at the same time that it flirts with being an image. I hope my paintings can do that. But I want every painting to be different and to operate differently”.
Rooney’s work expresses her intense awareness that she is a producer of hand-made art in an ever more digital world, as when she notes that she has made some pieces the size of a laptop, others sized like iPhones. “I was born in 1989, so I’m part of the world that experienced the world before the internet and came of age with the internet,” she says. “My family had one laptop. It wasn’t full color at that time. And it was like a thick brick. But something happened when I got a smart phone. And when imaging technology got so much better”.
What, specifically, did Rooney mean by better?
‘Better than the thing in real life,” Rooney said. “Because the ways that these cameras operate make these things pop in a certain sense. A lot of the iPhone cameras actually take pictures that are more succulent, more juicy, more vibrant than the thing that they’re capturing.”
Rooney does not think that this screen power often works on art though. She first saw Manet’s Olympia on-screen, for instance, but failed to get it until she saw it in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and she finds that such painterly artists as Soutine and Francis Bacon utterly fail to do their stuff onscreen. “But some painters make work for the screen these days,” she said. “And that is part of Instagram also. Part of what the Instagram cycle is about is work that reads crisply and seductively.”
Rooney’s attention to the survival of painting in a digital world has long focussed on the work of Piet Mondrian, those apparitions from an austerely mathematical space which also function as touchy/feely physical presences. “That is the essence of where a lot of this work came out of,” Rooney says. “The extreme chasm between the reality of his paintings as objects. They’re cracking, they’re not pristine, the edges are kind of gnarly, they’re dirty to some degree.
“And that is with a lot of work. That’s not to say they haven’t been cared for. They have been cared for. But the reality of how those paintings actually exist in the world, versus how they have been reproduced and then translated into these other worlds of design, fashion, commerce, pop. And so, Mondrian is a kind of—the artist I feel has the most, has experienced the most data loss. His paintings are so oversimplified when they get seen on a screen.”
Rooney’s own unalike paintings are very alike the strength and subtlety of her use of materials. Areas of pigment glow and canvases are put together from small squares, stitched together. It’s sometimes as if she’s giving the finger to the digital world, I observed.
“We live in a hybrid reality,” Julia Rooney said. “It’s like how can you love even the things that you hate?” WM
Anthony Haden-Guest (born 2 February 1937) is a British writer, reporter, cartoonist, art critic, poet, and socialite who lives in New York City and London. He is a frequent contributor to major magazines and has had several books published including TRUE COLORS: The Real Life of the Art World and The Last Party, Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night.
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