Issue 34 November 2023

Issue 33 August 2023

Issue 32 June 2023

Issue 31 February 2023

Issue 30 November 2022

Issue 29 August 2022

Issue 28 May 2022

Issue 27 February 2022

Issue 26 November 2021

Issue 25 August 2021

Issue 24 May 2021

Issue 23 February 2021

Issue 22 November 2020

Issue 21 August 2020

Issue 20 May 2020

Issue 19 February 2020

Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
Parasites in Love –Travis Diehl
To Crush Absolute On Patrick Staff and
Destroying the Institution
–Jonathan Griffin
Victoria Fu:
Camera Obscured
–Cat Kron
Resurgence of Resistance How Pattern & Decoration's Popularity
Can Help Reshape the Canon
–Catherine Wagley
Trace, Place, Politics Julie Mehretu's Coded Abstractions
–Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.: Featuring: Friedrich Kunath,
Tristan Unrau, and Nevine Mahmoud
–Claressinka Anderson & Joe Pugliese
Reviews April Street
at Vielmetter Los Angeles
–Aaron Horst

Chiraag Bhakta
at Human Resources
–Julie Weitz

Don’t Think: Tom, Joe
and Rick Potts

–Matt Stromberg

Sarah McMenimen
at Garden
–Michael Wright

The Medea Insurrection
at the Wende Museum
–Jennifer Remenchik

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Mike Kelley
at Hauser & Wirth
–Angella d’Avignon
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Issue 18 November 2019

Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
The Briar and the Tar Nayland Blake at the ICA LA
and Matthew Marks Gallery
–Travis Diehl
Putting Aesthetics
to Hope
Tracking Photography’s Role
in Feminist Communities
– Catherine Wagley
Instagram STARtists
and Bad Painting
– Anna Elise Johnson
Interview with Jamillah James – Lindsay Preston Zappas
Working Artists Featuring Catherine Fairbanks,
Paul Pescador, and Rachel Mason
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Children of the Sun
– Jessica Simmons

Derek Paul Jack Boyle
–Aaron Horst

Karl Holmqvist
at House of Gaga, Los Angeles
–Lee Purvey

Katja Seib
at Château Shatto
–Ashton Cooper

Jeanette Mundt
at Overduin & Co.
–Matt Stromberg
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Issue 17 August 2019

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Green Chip David Hammons
at Hauser & Wirth
–Travis Diehl
Whatever Gets You
Through the Night
The Artists of Dilexi
and Wartime Trauma
–Jonathan Griffin
Generous Collectors How the Grinsteins
Supported Artists
–Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Donna Huanca
–Lindsy Preston Zappas
Working Artist Featuring Ragen Moss, Justen LeRoy,
and Bari Ziperstein
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Sarah Lucas
at the Hammer Museum
–Yxta Maya Murray

George Herms and Terence Koh
at Morán Morán
–Matt Stromberg

Hannah Hur
at Bel Ami
–Michael Wright

Sebastian Hernandez
–Julie Weitz

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Alex Israel
at Greene Naftali
–Rosa Tyhurst

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Issue 16 May 2019

Trulee Hall's Untamed Magic Catherine Wagley
Ingredients for a Braver Art Scene Ceci Moss
I Shit on Your Graves Travis Diehl
Interview with Ruby Neri Jonathan Griffin
Carolee Schneemann and the Art of Saying Yes! Chelsea Beck
Exquisite L.A. Claressinka Anderson
Joe Pugliese
Reviews Ry Rocklen
at Honor Fraser
–Cat Kron

Rob Thom
at M+B
–Lindsay Preston Zappas

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age
of Black Power, 1963-1983
at The Broad
–Matt Stromberg

Anna Sew Hoy & Diedrick Brackens
at Various Small Fires
–Aaron Horst

Julia Haft-Candell & Suzan Frecon
at Parrasch Heijnen
–Jessica Simmons

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Shahryar Nashat
at Swiss Institute
–Christie Hayden
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Issue 15 February 2019

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor
Men on Women
Geena Brown
Eyes Without a Voice
Julian Rosefeldt's Manifesto
Christina Catherine Martinez
Seven Minute Dream Machine
Jordan Wolfson's (Female figure)
Travis Diehl
Laughing in Private
Vanessa Place's Rape Jokes
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Rosha Yaghmai
Laura Brown
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Patrick Martinez,
Ramiro Gomez, and John Valadez
Claressinka Anderson
Joe Pugliese
Reviews Outliers and American
Vanguard Art at LACMA
–Jonathan Griffin

Sperm Cult
–Matt Stromberg

Kahlil Joseph
–Jessica Simmons

Ingrid Luche
at Ghebaly Gallery
–Lindsay Preston Zappas

Matt Paweski
at Park View / Paul Soto
–John Zane Zappas

Trenton Doyle Hancock
at Shulamit Nazarian
–Colony Little

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Catherine Opie
at Lehmann Maupin
–Angella d'Avignon
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Issue 14 November 2018

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Celeste Dupuy-Spencer and Figurative Religion Catherine Wagley
Lynch in Traffic Travis Diehl
The Remixed Symbology of Nina Chanel Abney Lindsay Preston Zappas
Interview with Kulapat Yantrasast Christie Hayden
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Sandra de la Loza, Gloria Galvez, and Steve Wong
Claressinka Anderson
Photos: Joe Pugliese
Reviews Raúl de Nieves
at Freedman Fitzpatrick
-Aaron Horst

Gertrud Parker
at Parker Gallery
-Ashton Cooper

Robert Yarber
at Nicodim Gallery
-Jonathan Griffin

Nikita Gale
at Commonwealth & Council
-Simone Krug

Lari Pittman
at Regen Projects
-Matt Stromberg

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Eckhaus Latta
at the Whitney Museum
of American Art
-Angella d'Avignon
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Issue 13 August 2018

Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor Julie Weitz with Angella d'Avignon
Don't Make
Everything Boring
Catherine Wagley
The Collaborative Art
World of Norm Laich
Matt Stromberg
Oddly Satisfying Art Travis Diehl
Made in L.A. 2018 Reviews Claire de Dobay Rifelj
Jennifer Remenchik
Aaron Horst
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Anna Sew Hoy, Guadalupe Rosales, and Shizu Saldamando
Claressinka Anderson
Photos: Joe Pugliese
Reviews It's Snowing in LA
at AA|LA
–Matthew Lax

Fiona Conner
at the MAK Center
–Thomas Duncan

Show 2
at The Gallery @ Michael's
–Simone Krug

Deborah Roberts
at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
–Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi

Mimi Lauter
at Blum & Poe
–Jessica Simmons

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Math Bass
at Mary Boone
–Ashton Cooper

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Condo New York
–Laura Brown
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Issue 12 May 2018

Poetic Energies and
Radical Celebrations:
Senga Nengudi and Maren Hassinger
Simone Krug
Interior States of the Art Travis Diehl
Perennial Bloom:
Florals in Feminism
and Across L.A.
Angella d'Avignon
The Mess We're In Catherine Wagley
Interview with Christina Quarles Ashton Cooper
Object Project
Featuring Suné Woods, Michelle Dizon,
and Yong Soon Min
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Reviews Meleko Mokgosi
at The Fowler Museum at UCLA
-Jessica Simmons

Chris Kraus
at Chateau Shatto
- Aaron Horst

Ben Sanders
at Ochi Projects
- Matt Stromberg

iris yirei hsu
at the Women's Center
for Creative Work
- Hana Cohn

Harald Szeemann
at the Getty Research Institute
- Olivian Cha

Ali Prosch
at Bed and Breakfast
- Jennifer Remenchik

Reena Spaulings
at Matthew Marks
- Thomas Duncan
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Issue 11 February 2018

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Museum as Selfie Station Matt Stromberg
Accessible as Humanly as Possible Catherine Wagley
On Laura Owens on Laura Owens Travis Diehl
Interview with Puppies Puppies Jonathan Griffin
Object Project Lindsay Preston Zappas, Jeff McLane
Reviews Dulce Dientes
at Rainbow in Spanish
- Aaron Horst

Adrián Villas Rojas
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
- Lindsay Preston Zappas

Nevine Mahmoud
at M+B
- Angella D'Avignon

Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960- 1985
at the Hammer Museum
- Thomas Duncan

Hannah Greely and William T. Wiley
at Parker Gallery
- Keith J. Varadi

David Hockney
at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (L.A. in N.Y.)
- Ashton Cooper

Edgar Arceneaux
at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (L.A. in S.F.)
- Hana Cohn
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Issue 10 November 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Barely Living with Art:
The Labor of Domestic
Spaces in Los Angeles
Eli Diner
She Wanted Adventure:
Dwan, Butler, Mizuno, Copley
Catherine Wagley
The Languages of
All-Women Exhibitions
Lindsay Preston Zappas
L.A. Povera Travis Diehl
On Eclipses:
When Language
and Photography Fail
Jessica Simmons
Interview with
Hamza Walker
Julie Wietz
Object Project
Featuring: Rosha Yaghmai,
Dianna Molzan, and Patrick Jackson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McLane
Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA
Regen Projects
Ibid Gallery
One National Gay & Lesbian Archives and MOCA PDC
The Mistake Room
Luis De Jesus Gallery
the University Art Gallery at CSULB
the Autry Museum
Reviews Cheyenne Julien
at Smart Objects

Paul Mpagi Sepuya
at team bungalow

Ravi Jackson
at Richard Telles

Tactility of Line
at Elevator Mondays

Trigger: Gender as a Tool as a Weapon
at the New Museum
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Issue 9 August 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women on the Plinth Catherine Wagley
Us & Them, Now & Then:
Reconstituting Group Material
Travis Diehl
The Offerings of EJ Hill
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
Interview with Jenni Sorkin Carmen Winant
Object Project
Featuring: Rebecca Morris,
Linda Stark, Alex Olson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McClane
Reviews Mark Bradford
at the Venice Biennale

Broken Language
at Shulamit Nazarian

Artists of Color
at the Underground Museum

Anthony Lepore & Michael Henry Hayden
at Del Vaz Projects


Analia Saban at
Sprueth Magers
Letter to the Editor Lady Parts, Lady Arts
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Issue 8 May 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kanye Westworld Travis Diehl
@richardhawkins01 Thomas Duncan
Support Structures:
Alice Könitz and LAMOA
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Penny Slinger
Eliza Swann
Exquisite L.A.
taisha paggett
Ashley Hunt
Young Chung
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Alessandro Pessoli
at Marc Foxx

Jennie Jieun Lee
at The Pit

Trisha Baga
at 356 Mission

Jimmie Durham
at The Hammer

Parallel City
at Ms. Barbers

Jason Rhodes
at Hauser & Wirth
Letter to the Editor
Buy the Issue In Our Online Shop

Issue 7 February 2017

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Catherine Wagley
Put on a Happy Face:
On Dynasty Handbag
Travis Diehl
The Limits of Animality:
Simone Forti at ISCP
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
More Wound Than Ruin:
Evaluating the
"Human Condition"
Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.
Brenna Youngblood
Todd Gray
Rafa Esparza
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Creature
at The Broad

Sam Pulitzer & Peter Wachtler
at House of Gaga // Reena Spaulings Fine Art

Karl Haendel
at Susanne Vielmetter

Wolfgang Tillmans
at Regen Projects

at Chateau Shatto

The Rat Bastard Protective Association
at the Landing
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Issue 6 November 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kenneth Tam
's Basement
Travis Diehl
The Female
Cool School
Catherine Wagley
The Rise
of the L.A.
Art Witch
Amanda Yates Garcia
Interview with
Mernet Larsen
Julie Weitz
Agnes Martin
Jessica Simmons
Exquisite L.A.
Analia Saban
Ry Rocklen
Sarah Cain
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Made in L.A. 2016
at The Hammer Museum

Doug Aitken
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA

at Tif Sigfrids

Jean-Pascal Flavian and Mika Tajima
at Kayne Griffin Corcoran

Mark A. Rodruigez
at Park View

The Weeping Line
Organized by Alter Space
at Four Six One Nine
(S.F. in L.A.)
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Issue 5 August 2016

Letter form the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
at The Underground Museum
Catherine Wagley
The Art of Birth Carmen Winant
Escape from Bunker Hill
John Knight
Travis Diehl
Ed Boreal Speaks Benjamin Lord
Art Advice (from Men) Sarah Weber
Routine Pleasures
at the MAK Center
Jonathan Griffin
Exquisite L.A.
Fay Ray
John Baldessari
Claire Kennedy
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Revolution in the Making
at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel

Carl Cheng
at Cherry and Martin

Joan Snyder
at Parrasch Heijnen Gallery

Elanor Antin
at Diane Rosenstein

Performing the Grid
at Ben Maltz Gallery
at Otis College of Art & Design

Laura Owens
at The Wattis Institute
(L.A. in S.F.)
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Issue 4 May 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Moon, laub, and Love Catherine Wagley
Walk Artisanal Jonathan Griffin
Marva Marrow's
Inside the L.A. Artist
Anthony Pearson
Mystery Science Thater:
Diana Thater
Aaron Horst
Informal Feminisms Federica Bueti and Jan Verwoert
Marva Marrow Photographs
Lita Albuquerque
Interiors and Interiority:
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Char Jansen
Reviews L.A. Art Fairs

Material Art Fair, Mexico City

Rain Room

Evan Holloway
at David Kordansky Gallery

Histories of a Vanishing Present: A Prologue
at The Mistake Room

Carter Mull
at fused space
(L.A. in S.F.)

Awol Erizku
at FLAG Art Foundation
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Issue 3 February 2016

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Le Louvre, Las Vegas Evan Moffitt
iPhones, Flesh,
and the Word:
at Arturo Bandini
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women Talking About Barney Catherine Wagley
Lingua Ignota:
Faith Wilding
at The Armory Center
for the Arts
Benjamin Lord
A Conversation
with Amalia Ulman
Char Jansen
How We Practice Carmen Winant
Share Your Piece
of the Puzzle
Federica Bueti
Amanda Ross-Ho Photographs
Erik Frydenborg
Reviews Honeydew
at Michael Thibault

Fred Tomaselli
at California State University, Fullerton

Trisha Donnelly
at Matthew Marks Gallery

Bradford Kessler
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Issue 2 November 2015

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Hot Tears Carmen Winant
Slow View:
Molly Larkey
Anna Breininger and Kate Whitlock
Americanicity's Paintings:
Orion Martin
at Favorite Goods
Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal
Layers of Leimert Park Catherine Wagley
Junkspace Junk Food:
Parker Ito
at Kaldi, Smart Objects,
White Cube, and
Château Shatto
Evan Moffitt
Melrose Hustle Keith Vaughn
Max Maslansky Photographs
Monica Majoli
at the Tom of Finland Foundation
White Lee, Black Lee:
William Pope.L’s "Reenactor"
Travis Diehl
Dora Budor Interview Char Jensen
Reviews Mary Ried Kelley
at The Hammer Museum

Tongues Untied
at MOCA Pacific Design Center

No Joke
at Tanya Leighton
(L.A. in Berlin)
Snap Reviews Martin Basher at Anat Ebgi
Body Parts I-V at ASHES ASHES
Eve Fowler at Mier Gallery
Matt Siegle at Park View
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Issue 1 August 2015

Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Metaphysical L.A.
Travis Diehl
Art for Art’s Sake:
L.A. in the 1990s
Anthony Pearson
A Dialogue in Two
Synchronous Atmospheres
Erik Morse
with Alexandra Grant
at François Ghebaly
Jonathan Griffin
#studio #visit
with #devin #kenny
Mateo Tannatt
Jibade-Khalil Huffman
Slow View:
Discussion on One Work
Anna Breininger
with Julian Rogers
Reviews Pierre Huyghe

Mernet Larsen
at Various Small Fires

John Currin
at Gagosian, Beverly Hills

Pat O'Niell
at Cherry and Martin

A New Rhythm
at Park View

Unwatchable Scenes and
Other Unreliable Images...
at Public Fiction

Charles Gaines
at The Hammer Museum

Henry Taylor
at Blum & Poe/ Untitled
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Buy the Issue In Our Online Shop
1301 PE
Anat Ebgi (La Cienega)
Anat Ebgi (Wilshire)
Arcana Books
Artbook @ Hauser & Wirth
Babst Gallery
Baert Gallery
Bel Ami
Canary Test
Carlye Packer
Charlie James Gallery
Château Shatto
Chris Sharp Gallery
Cirrus Gallery
Clay ca
Commonwealth & Council
Craft Contemporary
D2 Art (Inglewood)
D2 Art (Westwood)
David Kordansky Gallery
David Zwirner
Diane Rosenstein
François Ghebaly
Gana Art Los Angeles
George Billis Gallery
Giovanni's Room
Hamzianpour & Kia
Hannah Hoffman Gallery
Harper's Gallery
Hashimoto Contemporary
Heavy Manners Library
Helen J Gallery
Human Resources
Hunter Shaw Fine Art
in lieu
LaPau Gallery
Lisson Gallery
Lowell Ryan Projects
Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
MAK Center for Art and Architecture
Make Room Los Angeles
Matter Studio Gallery
Matthew Brown Los Angeles
MOCA Grand Avenue
Monte Vista Projects
Morán Morán
Moskowitz Bayse
Nazarian / Curcio
Night Gallery
Nino Mier Gallery
NOON Projects
O-Town House
One Trick Pony
Paradise Framing
Park View / Paul Soto
Patricia Sweetow Gallery
Regen Projects
Reparations Club
r d f a
REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater)
Roberts Projects
Royale Projects
Sean Kelly
Sebastian Gladstone
Shoshana Wayne Gallery
Smart Objects
Steve Turner
Stroll Garden
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
The Box
The Fulcrum
The Hole
The Landing
The Poetic Research Bureau
The Wende Museum
Thinkspace Projects
Tierra del Sol Gallery
Tiger Strikes Astroid
Tomorrow Today
Track 16
Tyler Park Presents
USC Fisher Museum of Art
UTA Artist Space
Various Small Fires
Village Well Books & Coffee
Outside L.A.
Libraries/ Collections
Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore, MD)
Bard College, CCS Library (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY)
Charlotte Street Foundation (Kansas City, MO)
Cranbrook Academy of Art (Bloomfield Hills, MI)
Getty Research Institute (Los Angeles, CA)
Los Angeles Contemporary Archive (Los Angeles, CA)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA)
Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore, MD)
Midway Contemporary Art (Minneapolis, MN)
Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, CA)
NYS College of Ceramics at Alfred University (Alfred, NY)
Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, CA)
School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY)
University of California Irvine, Langston IMCA (Irvine, CA)
University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN)
Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY)
Yale University Library (New Haven, CT)

Instagram STARtists
and Bad Painting

Robin F. Williams, Cold Brew (2018). Acrylic and oil on panel, 40 × 30 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires, Los Angeles/Seoul.

I first saw Robin F. Williams’ paintings on Instagram. I assume most of us did since she has 75.6K followers—you might say she’s an Instagram STARtist. Her paintings have been so successful on Instagram that she epitomizes a growing group of rising art stars whose Instagram stardom compounds their art world success. As digital images backlit on a phone, Williams’ work is strikingly graphic. But upon seeing the work in person at her solo show at Various Small Fires this fall, it became more clear how her physical and material painting methods ultimately serve her graphic images and how these techniques break all the established, historically developed codes of “good” painting.

Williams uses acrylic—that bold, plastic-based paint—masking off the majority of her shapes to paint thin layers of color within sharp, precise forms. She uses thicker, brushier techniques in the backgrounds, but rather than an expressionist impasto she implements systematic, swirling strokes or waves of paint like those typically used in wall treatments. Elsewhere, squiggly little painted lines illustrate individual pubic hairs, and scraped away gradations of color are used to indicate the chiaroscuro of rounded body parts. Together, these techniques break from many of the assorted traditions of “good” painting first developed during the Renaissance, revised during the reign of the Salon of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, and upended during subsequent avant-garde movements. In my own art education, I was offered an atemporal grab-bag of painting codes: Renaissance composition; the Impressionist’s moratorium on black paint; Abstract Expressionist expectations for deeply felt color choices and paint handling; and a lingering Beaux-Arts idea that painting must start from a foundation of observed drawing. Rather than following these inherited techniques, Williams uses acrylic instead of oil, cartoony/illustrative figuration rather than closely observed realism, and systematic rather than expressionistic brushwork.

Her paintings could be seen as following the tradition of “bad” painting which became an official designation of museum-worthy art in a 1978 exhibition curated by Marcia Tucker at the New Museum, titled simply “Bad” Painting. As Tucker wrote in the show’s catalogue, the exhibition included figurative work that “defies, either deliberately or by virtue of disinterest, the classic canons of good taste.”1 At the time, the ruling taste tended toward minimalism and conceptualism, and frequent proclamations about the death of painting peppered contemporary art discourse. As a result, simply the act of painting at all—not to mention painting figures — seemed an act of rebellion. In the 1980s, artists like Julian Schnabel and Martin Kippenberger found incredible market success in taking up the mantle of “bad” painting, making intentionally awkward figurative work. From the 1990s into the 2000s, other successful “bad” figure painters like Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin referenced art historical figures in their work alongside cartoons and soft-core pornography.

At this point, 40 years after Tucker’s “Bad” Painting exhibition, I’m not sure if we collectively remember what should be considered good and what should be considered bad in painting. Has good become bad, and bad good, and back again? Where are we in the cycle? Given the institutional and market aggrandizement of “bad” painting, Williams’ arsenal of “bad” painting techniques do not seem to be rebelling deliberately against any lingering standards. Yet unlike the “bad” painters Tucker sought out, she follows rather than avoids current tastes and fashions. Being au courant is, in a way, her specialty. Her subject matter and precise, graphic painting techniques seem chosen purely to make the imagery look as eye-catching as possible on digital platforms. The paintings photo-graph well, they communicate clearly in thumbnails or blown up, and they burn into your memory as icons.

Robin F. Williams, Side Eye Tie Dye (detail) (2019). Acrylic and oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires, Los Angeles/Seoul.

Williams’ Instagram page is almost entirely made up of pictures of her paintings—no hot selfies or pictures flaunting a cool lifestyle—so the strength of these images alone has drawn her followers. The boldness of her images comes from her graphic techniques as well as from her recasting of iconic imagery from art history, advertising, and contemporary culture. Her nude, athletically posed white people in the VSF show have rounded, strong limbs reminiscent of Nazi and Soviet Socialist Realist sculptures. For instance, the central figure in her painting Alive with Pleasure (2019) conjures an upside-down version of Arno Breker’s 1939 sculpture Die Partei, a male nude meant to represent the Third Reich that stood outside the German Chancellery.

However, unlike the Socialist figures that boldly stare into an idealized future, Williams’ figures have cartoonishly large smiles or comically blank, straight faces that belie their propagandistic status as examples of ideal, or idealizing, citizens. Williams uses her illustrative style to reenact scenes that suggest past ideological orders, but her style and her dissimulating figures dissociate from any embedded message. They pose appropriately for the scene, but their facial expressions show that they either enjoy themselves too much (as in the overly-broad smile in Ice Queen, 2019) or refuse to pretend they are enjoying themselves at all (like the blank-faced gymnast in Weathervane, 2018). Their expressions bring cheekiness into the work that contrasts the serious stylistic references of their bodies—their eyes are simplified, half-circles, and their grins have the look of Adobe Illustrator drawings.

In the smaller portraits in the show, her subject matter looks more straight forwardly contemporary, and the figures’ poses more closely reference those you would see in advertising. The titles of the works, all of which have the ring of hashtags, point to youth culture accouterments and expressions: Side Eye in Tie Dye, Slow Clap, Ice Queen, Vaping in the Rain, and Cold Brew. Williams’ work stays very close to the world in which it thrives. (To understand how mainstream her references are, #vaping, for instance, has 9 million posts on Instagram, #coldbrew has 1.6 million, and #icequeen has 353K.) Being not just on Instagram but of Instagram allies the paintings with signifiers of new, online frontiers of commerce and advertising. Just as influencers sway our desires and purchases, the art we see trending on Instagram can affect our aesthetic tastes and shape our assessment of what art is important now. Instagram STARtists like Robin F. Williams (as well as Devan Shimoyama, Shona McAndrew, or Chloe Wise—to name a few other popular figurative painters), are both influencers and artistic influences to young artists.

Historically, artists living in close proximity have created movements by communally developing ideas and formal innovations through conversation and by challenging each other to push visual ideas further. The Abstract Expressionists, for example, lived mostly between 8th and 10th Street in Manhattan. They regularly dropped into each other’s studios to watch the progression of ideas, and famously convened at bars at night to discuss their work. Today’s art world has grown exponentially. It has spread out geographically. We access its scope, as everything else, through the internet. Seeing work online, rather than in person, can give a broad idea of what artists are creating around the world, but it gives little indication of the context in which it was created, the discourse surrounding the work, or the development of works over time (the popularity of artists posting photos of works in progress, #wip—16.9 million posts—notwithstanding).

Instagram’s interface especially privileges singular, decontextualized images. Scrolling through my feed, I might see a picture of a cat, an ad for a bra, a painting, and then a photo of my friend’s kid. If the painting doesn’t grab my attention in a fraction of a second, it will soon be lost within the algorithm’s constantly updating array of images. In contrast to seeing a digital photograph of a painting in the melee of my Instagram feed, when seeing a painting in person, I can physically move around it, get up close to analyze how it’s made, and stare at it for any chosen amount of time. Painting can draw you in to reveal itself slowly as a physical embodiment of the artist’s methods and thought processes during its creation.

To be popular, Instagram STARtists’ work must live up to the demands of the platform: quickly attract a viewer’s attention, communicate clearly as a self-contained image, and be instantaneously accessible to a large audience. The pictures, videos, and stories that we put online are called “content,” what Urban Dictionary defines as “the shit that people post online for maximum views.” It’s surprising that given the overwhelming amount of online “content” we produce, just how little real content (as it is understood in any Jr. High English class), we provide. Though, if the medium (Instagram) is the message, we are right on topic. When we post paintings on Instagram, the content of our work risks taking on the pressure to operate similarly to the kind of content that aims only for maximum views. Instagram, of course, has its own interests in keeping users’ attention. In the era of Instagram STARtists, the criteria by which we evaluate painting—whether good or bad—can collide with how we gauge a successful post.

This essay was originally published in Carla issue 18.

Marcia Tucker and a guest at the opening of “Bad” Painting (1978). Image courtesy of the artists and New Museum,  New York. Photo: New Museum.

“Bad” Painting (installation view) (1978). Image courtesy of the artists and New Museum, New York. Photo: Thomas Haar.

Robin F. Williams, With Pleasure (installation view) (2019). Image courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires, Los Angeles/Seoul.

Robin F. Williams, Ice Queen (2019). Acrylic and oil on canvas, 72 x 50 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires, Los Angeles/Seoul.

Robin F. Williams, Weathervane (2018). Acrylic and oil on canvas, 60 × 76 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires, Los Angeles/Seoul.

Robin F. Williams, Vaping in the Rain (2019). Acrylic and oil on canvas, 54 × 70 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires, Los Angeles/Seoul.

Robin F. Williams, Slow Clap (detail) (2018). Acrylic and oil on canvas, 54 x 96 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires, Los Angeles/Seoul.

  1.  Marcia Tucker, “Bad” Painting (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1978).

Anna Elise Johnson received her MFA from the University of Chicago and her BFA from Washington University in St. Louis. She was a resident at the Core Program in Houston, TX as well as The International Studio Program in London. She has shown her work in exhibitions across the United States as well as internationally. She now lives in Los Angeles.

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