Jill Greenberg, “Paintings” @ClampArt

JTF (just the facts): A total of 7 large scale photographic works, framed in white and unmatted, and hung in the single room gallery space. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made in 2014-2015. Physical sizes range from 24×24 to 58×77 (or reverse) and all of the works are unique. (Installation and detail shots below.)

Comments/Context: As the appropriation tactics of various artists have become more daring and widespread and more photographs that have been inkjet printed on canvas are being categorized as paintings, it’s not surprising that some photographers are becoming annoyed by the increasingly loose mashup culture that is taking hold. Jill Greenberg’s newest works are a provocative inverted response to this trend—instead of turning borrowed photographs into paintings, she’s made her own paintings into massive photographs, and done so with a sly poke in the eye to those on the other side.

Greenberg starts with paintings made on glass—gooey, gloppy, drippy compositions that are almost a caricature of gestural Pollock expressiveness. Thick brushstrokes sweep across the surface, swirling her colors into fluid topographical surfaces that look like rainbow oil slicks or watery residue. Wet and dry are intermingled, the paint consciously active and full of implied physical motion.

But like Roy Lichtenstein’s brushstrokes made of Ben Day dots, Greenberg’s photographs of these paintings call their “painterliness” into question. Up close, it becomes clear that the paintings are covered in light reflections and refractions—photography is often an investigation of light, of course. Using a combination of the natural light coming in through the gridded skylights of her studio and spotlights aimed at the paintings from nearby, she’s brought their wet surfaces to life with bright white highlights, striped lines, and psychedelic twisted glare. Details of the works reveal other hidden messages—stencils placed over the spotlights have added arrays of jaunty stars and the word HAH to the tiny reflections. They’re a discreet kind of visual insult, enabled not by the paint but by the photography.

Printed extra large and released as unique works, Greenberg’s “paintings” are both satisfyingly decorative and slyly comedic, in the manner of an inside joke. She’s artistically giving Richard Prince the finger (he’s almost certainly not paying attention), and who doesn’t love an aesthetic throwdown? Greenberg is standing up for the primacy of photography in this digital free-for-all, making the case that anyone can turn a photograph into a painting but few can appropriate a painting and transform it into something uniquely photographic. It’s a brainy brand of inter-media conceptualism, delivered in the manner of a schoolyard taunt.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced at $7500, $8000, or $12000 based on size. Greenberg’s prints have very little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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