Nozkowski is problematic in a sense by being so un-problematic. He’s now an older generation artist, with a massive web of connections to world’s most prestigious museums and collections, which have been eating up his modest size abstractions since an early 70’s first show with pleasure.
Current show on display at Russell Bowman Art Advisory is the first group of Nozkowski’s to be shown in Chicago over 20 years, which sounds like someone was bound the see the opportunity at hand to make a quick buck offloading some small abstractions to less in-the-know midwesterners –no particular offense to globe-trotting collectors of Chicago. Gallery 1 offers a display of “larger” works, oil on panel and oil on paper pieces subtly varied in size from 22’‘x28” to 22 1/4” to 30”. Gallery 2 contains a mix of pencil and gouache works along with a few smaller oil on paper pieces. These smaller works do not provide he usual dynamic of “in the grand showroom we have the large masterpieces, and if you go the room behind the curtain you shall see the studies”, since they are finished works too, equally dense as large ones, with similar paint application and sizes Nozkowski painted in the past decades insistently.
When I look around the room, I see an endlessness in variety and invention, which makes me grow suspicious when I’m face to face with work that cherishes these qualities in abundance. In his interviews, Nozkowski often alludes to magical qualities of optical play between shapes and color, maintaining a purified relationship to making and generating information. He says, speaking of a Pisanello painting he found inspiring as a child, “I was trying to find out why those elements work. How could a pale yellow disc have such a strong effect?” , or when asked if he ever did figure out what makes things work, he replies: “not in specifics. I mean, if you could figure it out, it would lose a lot of its magic. You’d possess it too closely. What I did come to understand was the possibility of working out of a feeling rather than a formal direction.”
This mystical speak which comes up too often when artists over 50 are questioned about their work, is banal to my young eyes and mind. I was shaken with a similar sensation at Judith Geichman’s talk at Carrie Secrist few weeks back, when the content of the work was described as “the moment”, even the “momentary moment”, or “my life experience”, “my way of seeing things”. Although we all possess a dreamy idealist, mid-century romantic deep down somewhere, these romanticized notions simply don’t cut it for my fresh out of grad school mind, especially coming from estabilished artists.
Indeed, artist’s who have had their start three or four decades ago are not expected today to make work to look as if they are 25 years old, but as in Nozkowski’s case
, when hundreds and hundreds of “young artists” today are churning out similarly modest sized, similarly colorful and eager to invent work, potency of his masterly persona is lost (this persona born in the aftermath of promotional efforts, gallery and institution support, art historical elbow rubbing)
Yes, these paintings are lively and colorful and yes, abundant biomorphic shapes clash with possible signifiers and architectural grounds all over the pictorial space, but at the same time they remain too closed off, predictable and non critical.
-this review is (clearly) based on subjective musings and meant to ignite possible discussion.