David Klamen at Richard Gray - Brief Article
Art in America, March, 1999 by Gerrit Henry
Two or three years ago, Chicago-based painter David Klamen was puzzling viewers with low-contrast, oil-on-linen interiors featuring strange, egg-or pitcher-shaped objects and unidentifiable metallic-looking appurtenances. Architectural backgrounds were so dark you almost had to have night-vision goggles to see them.
In his recent show at Richard Gray's New York space, one of the two kinds of paintings on view featured ink-and-watercolor images that are similarly hard to make out. These works are based on those bar codes found today on everything from a paperback of Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents (rendered here in Op-art striations of black ink against yellow watercolor) to a box of Sudafed tablets (painted black on pumpkiny orange). Other works are cryptic art-historical images encoded within the black-and-color-striped bar format. Chief among these was Learning Knowing (Caravaggio's Doubting Thomas), a 1998 vertical variation on a relatively little-known bit of Baroque. Another work is a send-up of de Kooning's Women, in which images are doubly frenzied as the Action painting source works itself out within a horizontal prison of shifting bars.
The literature on this show made a great deal of the fact that Klamen is now, as ever, thoroughly involved with the epistemology and semiotics of art--perhaps, one might quibble, to the exclusion of art itself. But Klamen saved the day with the other type of work featured in this exhibition: clusters of small and smaller watercolor-and-ink paintings, some no bigger than postage stamps. They look like tiny landscapes (trees, water, horizons) but, upon inspection, reveal themselves as rectangles washed with bluish color and articulated with a small amount of black ink. Grouped together, they form loose geometric patterns; they also suggest an explosion in a late-19th-century French salon.
Critics and Klamen himself pretty much disown the overtly lyrical, evanescently romantic nature of the works. He insists that his work is about "the slow disclosure of images." This is very true, of course, of the dark paintings and of the Op-art-type bar-code works. In the mini-landscapes, though, Klamen has bitten off more of the sublime than he can chew up as theory. It is the viewer's joy that it's so.
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Gerrit Henry "David Klamen at Richard Gray - Brief Article". Art in America. March 1999. FindArticles.com. 23 Sep. 2006.