Thursday, May 3, 2012

Molly Zuckerman-Hartung at the MCA

Molly Zuckerman-Hartung at the Museum of Contemporary Art through July 24

Visual art summons meanings, and unrestricted by any obvious intentions, abstract art encourages free association. Abstract artists don’t need to be concerned with public responses like “No, that’s not Martin Luther King”. But unless they consider themselves to be decorators, there is usually some kind of profound association they would like to share with the world. Some offer these explanations in an artist’s statement; some leave it up to the gallerists or critics, but Molly Zuckerman-Hartung posts the 95 theses of her art theory up on an entire wall at the MCA.

The paintings/collages themselves are fascinating because they are so good, combining the effects of forceful self expression with what feels like the passivity of a chemical process, much the same way that colorful glazes play upon the surface of kiln fired ceramics, except that her multi-media technique offers her many more options for color and texture. Her appetite for creativity in these small pieces seems boundless – and indeed she often uses dyed strips of cloth to carry the colors beyond the boundaries of the rectangular surface. But that doesn’t necessarily make the pieces look any better, just as the wall full of text doesn’t especially explain them.

If a thousand people saw her paintings without reading her text, would even a single person guess she had purposed them to explore the “codes of capitalism”? And she doesn’t even attempt to explain which codes are being addressed by which paintings – nor does she seem to take her “95 theses of Painting” all that seriously. Soon after Martin Luther had posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg church, the newly invented printing press disseminated his text throughout Europe, marking the beginning of mass communication and triggering the biggest transformation in European history until the French Revolution. But the Zuckerman-Hartung 95 Theses aren't even distributed at the gallery, much less over an internet which could spread her manifesto instantaneously all over the world. If she really wanted to.

So despite the successful paintings, the exhibit as a whole seems to express frustration - either with the limitations of her medium or with a contemporary theory-driven artworld in which good painting has become neither necessary, sufficient, or even relevant.