Episode 214: Constellations: Paintings from the MCA Collection

October 4, 2009 · Print This Article

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Episode 214: Constellations: A conversation with Julie Rodrigues Widholm, Wesley Kimler, Vera Klement and Paul “The Knife” Klein.

This week we talk Painting.

We assembled a crack team team of two Chicago painters (Wesley Kimler and Vera Klement), one Art Provocateur (Paul Klein), and a Curator from the MCA (Julie Rodrigues Widholm) and we talk painting and what makes the show “Constellations,” currently on display at the MCA, an important show for Chicago.

During the interview you will also hear the flock of parrots that inhabit Kimler’s studio and his daughter playing in the background, please do not be alarmed. You may also hear Duncan being made fun of for his love of Chris Wool, but if loving Wool is wrong, Duncan may never be right.
Julie Rodrigues Widholm
Vera Klement
Wesley Kimler
Paul Klein
Bradley University Gallery
The Art Letter
The Huffington Post
Olafur Eliasson
Andreas Gursky
Robert Hughes
Peter Schjeldahl
New Yorker
James Ensor
Edvard Munch
Sigmar Polke
Roy Lichtenstein
Karen Kilimnik
Scott Reeder
Michelle Grabner
Judy Ledgerwood
Kerry James Marshall
Angelina Gualdoni
Gertrude Abercrombie
Jasper Johns
Christopher Wool
Ellen Gallagher
Piero Manzoni
Lucio Fontana
Bob Fitzpatrick
Elizabeth Smith
Francesco Bonami
Lynne Warren
De Kooning
Philip Guston
Ed Paschke
Roger Brown
Smart Museum
Art Chicago
Chuck Close
Anselm Kiefer
Tony Wight
Philip von Zweck
Ed Moses

34 thoughts on “Episode 214: Constellations: Paintings from the MCA Collection”

  1. tony tasset says:

    who has said that painting is dead in the last 40 years?

  2. Paul Germanos says:

    Elizabeth Chodos and Shannon Stratton interviewed by Lauren Weinberg in Time Out Chicago:

    “The days of ‘the solo artist in the studio, like Jackson Pollock communing with himself and nature’ are over.”

    Supplanting the [male] painter and the commercial gallery were said to be, “relational aesthetics,” and, “alternative art spaces.” And that was the reason for the rise in prominence of female artists at threewalls:


  3. tony tasset says:

    paul, i also find your quote from chodos or stratton-whoever said it-silly. i can’t believe anyone who hasn’t been under a rock since the mid 70’s really believes that “painting” as a whole is dead.

    by the way, i also very much enjoyed the constellation show. and i like the new paintings i’ve seen from wesley. perhaps now that he’s a player he can stop being such a player hater.

  4. R. Szott says:

    Tony –

    These two articles (which you probably read and have forgotten)discuss the “death” and “return” to painting at length. The discussion of painting is engaging even for an art illiterate kook like me. The article names good old Douglas Crimp (I think I have a copy of On the Museum’s Ruins if you want to see the evidence first hand) as having delivered a eulogy or two – now it was around 20 years ago, but that does fall within 40. Article two has Lane Relyea being the amazing old fashioned crank I love him so much for…



    They are way closer to answering your question than Paul’s reaching citation of the Time Out article, which in my reading, is more of a rationale for programming decisions and an analysis of artworld trends rather than a proclamation. Look closely at the quote “The days of” and “are over” are inserted by the article’s author as bookends to something Elizabeth said. We all know how things can be taken out of context. The article is a poor example of the “painting is dead” phenomena.

  5. Chodos says:

    Thanks, Randall! For the record, I was badly taken out of context…I was talking about how there are many models of studio practice, some that don’t even involve a studio (in reference to our summer residency , ‘women in performance.’). I wasn’t talking about painting itself as something that is over, but that many new kinds of practices and ways of working have emerged since the 1940’s-50’s. (I know, I know…duh….) I also want to add that I said ‘communing with himself *as* nature’, not ‘*and* nature’, or at least that’s what I should have said, AND I will go on the record as saying that I think painting is alive and well, co-existing with the dematerialized, and other-material based practices.

  6. tony tasset says:

    ok, i stand corrected, i should have said 30 years ago. i remember the period well, around 1979- neo-expressionism broke it wide open jackson. everyone at that time was also afraid the art center was moving from new york to germany.

    but this is all ancient history and has little to do with the constellation exhibition. painting will never die, it’s cheap to make, can hang over the couch and provides that human “touch” thang almost no other medium can offer.

    but lets move on. i didn’t mean to start off on an irrelevant tangent, but that was how the BAS conversation started.

    dear painters, we love you-relax.

  7. The Shark says:

    “who has said that painting is dead in the last 40 years?” ….another holocaust denier-

    What is far more interesting and relevant when it comes to the painting is dead camp-far more so than any actual or particular piece of rhetoric of which there are instances and examples too numerous to mention, are the academic incursions/aggressions upon painting itself -via painting. The ongoing attempt to subvert the concrete, and establish new hierarchy via rhetorically put forth context: the ‘I paint but I really don’t like to, and I’m actually very sorry I do it, which I can demonstrate by not being very good at it- Tuymans school’ to the local phenomenon of’ lets reinvent early 60’s colorfield painting/op art as feminist agenda, contextualizing a lack of any real painting skill as anti-ejaculatory mark making. Somehow miraculously transforming very limited and backwards looking, conservative/ deskilled examples of painting into what has been considered in some self-interested camps here as ‘cutting edge’.

    The nice thing about painting is its concreteness: that what the Constellations Exhibition affords us here, is an opportunity to see who is who and what is what in Chicago painting minus the talk, minus the art world politics.

  8. The Shark says:

    “and i like the new paintings i’ve seen from wesley. perhaps now that he’s a player he can stop being such a player hater.”

    ..uhhhhh…… this is the 5th exhibition -including a solo show, I have been involved with/shown work, at the Museum Of Contemporary Art-

  9. tony tasset says:

    ha! ha! did you just compare the struggle with painting to the holocaust? and did you just compare me to ahmadinejad? i was wondering how you would insult me-i’m impressed. hey you’re the one who loves kiefer.

    also, the one artist you allowed yourself to compliment besides vera and anselm was angelina gualdoni. guess where she went to school? you’re slipping w.

    why can’t we all just get along? i believe it’s possible to put forth a position without attacking others. painting might not be dead but modernism is.

    ok, i’m done. i’m going to my studio to commune with nature. have fun sharkie, i know you must have the last bite.

  10. The Shark says:

    uhhhhh… your fact free commentary reminds me of Fox News Tony-

    “and did you just compare me to ahmadinejad?”

    …hmmmmmmm…..that’s awfully grandiose on your part to think so Tony. The short answer is, no.

    “also, the one artist you allowed yourself to compliment besides vera and anselm was angelina gualdoni.”

    I believe I also note that I like Michelle Grabner work in spite of the ‘talk’, Kerry James Marshall, Leon Golub…to limit myself to Chicago Artists -I could also add Robert Davis and Michael Langlois who’s 12X12 exhibition ran concurrently with Constellations….

    “gualdoni. guess where she went to school? you’re slipping”…

    …having engaged Ms Gualdoni in more than one contest at the game of pinball while she indeed was at UIC, I am completely aware- “good art happens in spite of the art world” -and here is yet further proof of that observation put forth by Robert Hughes-

    “painting might not be dead but modernism is”….

    uuhhh….in light of the Constellations Exhibition complete with its Clement Greenberg room, I’m probably not the painter you need to be enlightening with this particular piece of information! hint: look closer to home.

    “why can’t we all just get along?”

    ……..gad, why did that Rodney King ever have to utter those words?…….thank you very much for the peace overture Tony, if my hardened shark heart pumped something other than cold blood, undoubtedly, I would be moved.

  11. tony tasset says:

    ew! i just read the comments and i sound
    like such a prick.

    wesley, (and whoever else read that nastiness), i apologize. i immediately took a swipe at you early in the morning questioning the “painting is dead” discussion. i suppose that question is a chronic and legitimate concern of painting. painting is never the cool kid at the playground but in the end always wins for just the reasons you and vera mentioned-paintings flexibility, and primal simplicity.

    i’m obviously just mad at you because you’re always so mean to my darling wife and friends. and you can’t say it’s not personal because you get very personal. judy is just a hard working artist like you and me. i don’t understand the point of deriding her work. you think she doesn’t deserve whatever accolades she has acquired. you know these things are relative. she’s had disappointments. your not so veiled critique of her work being a rehash of op art is a really superficial read. couldn’t someone likewise make an argument that your pure abstractions are a rehash of 50’s expressionism? and also that painting of judy’s at the mca is 15 years old. at least talk about judy’s new work which is full of ejaculatory girl marks. judy has no skill? really? what does that mean? i know. i know it’s a painting thing. that’s what i don’t like about painting-when painters say “thats a good painting”. but they never can explain what that means. it’s some mystical secret.

    anyhoo, truth is i’ve been teaching so long and i’m such an old-school post modern relativist that
    i can make an argument to defend almost any work. i’m not a fan of kilimnick either. but it’s just not our taste. of course it’s bad painting. it’s hyper kitsch-maybe it’s so bad it’s good. whatev! the point is enough people do like it that’s she has had a little moment in the art world. who cares. do you think the art world should be more pure that any other system? do jon and kate deserve all their attention?

    so you hate the art world. of course you do. everyone hates the art world-we’re old. it’s political, it’s unfair. and what isn’t? if someone rejects my work i think, oh well, i’m sorry they didn’t like it, but i don’t think they are a dumb sonovabitch. i just think i’m not their cup of tea.

    anyway you are a man of strong convictions and bless you for it. i honestly think every artist and curator is doing the best they can and some get lucky.

    and you and i are very lucky.

  12. Paul Germanos says:

    Representing painting in Chicago on the national, and international, scene is not Tony Tasset or Wesely Kimler.

    It’s Philip von Zweck.

    Go to Artforum’s website. Read the critic’s picks. Find there a review of Philip von Zweck’s show of paintings–at threewalls gallery.

    Note that the author of the review, named above, is Claudine Ise.

    Who has the next show at threewalls? “Relational artist” Randall Szott. Re-read the recent comments made by Randall, R. Szott, et al. Did you not wonder about his sudden appearance?

    Who’s participating in the upcoming publication which deals with alternative spaces in Chicago? Bad at Sports, threewalls, Mary Jane Jacob, Lori Waxman, et al. Familiar names?

    + + +

    Into the chasm between you, Tony, and you, Wesely, a third party has thrown its seeds. And even now the first fruits appear.

  13. Sane says:

    Germanos is starting to sound like D.Isaacs – a troublemaker. Went to artforum and read the puffery generated from a press release and published two weeks before the show opened, likely before the paintings Germanos thinks represent Chicago (with no visuals included) were even painted. Have you seen the show? Those paintings are an insult to paint, to say nothing of art. What’s curious is the dichotomy between the crap VZ pumps out and the quality of his brain. Germanos, how can something represent anything when there’s nothing to look at anywhere (not 3walls, not google)? Get real.

    I’m impressed with Tasset stepping up. And Kimler has to learn that he’s a good enough painter to allow contemporaries room in the discussion. How good did Clyllford Still’s supercilious attitude work for him? I foresee Kimler recalculating.

  14. The Shark says:

    Paul, do you have any idea how much of this silly fly by night, trendy junk you mention as if it is actually important, both Mr. Tasset and myself have watched come and go over the years?

    The paintings you mention are really not worth discussing -and trust me -this time next year, we won’t be-… discussing them that is. Have some perspective please.

    -Claudine, time to bone up on painting and gain some small amount of gravitas on the topic. I have heard curators/some discussion concerning the show at Three Walls -how Mr von Zweck is quite interesting in some of the roles he plays -but how this does not extend into the realm of his attempt at being a painter- all rather obvious, and readily apparent.

    I like Szott! As mind numbingly academic as he is letting ‘the relational’ – contextual contructs/ -his penchant for philosophical hermeneutics completely retard his apprehension of the aesthetic -while cementing his claim to be a world class name dropper -but he is invested…I like that -there is a whole heartedness/investment to his escapade I appreciate and find believable.

    Careful Tony, your last post almost makes me like you -you make for such a damned good enemy, don’t screw it up for me!

  15. The Shark says:

    Sane…..good post -I’m impressed with Tony’s recanting myself- though given the way the the situation was unfolding, his options were somewhat limited … how do you negotiate with a circling 5 foot dorsal fin anyway?

    …..you sure sound like Paul Klein mom! I’m sure its just a coincidence!

  16. Paul Germanos says:

    The discussion above:

    Episode 214, Constellations: Paintings
    [October 4, 2009]

    occurred as a result of the upheaval which followed:

    Short Takes on the New Fall Shows: West Loop Edition
    [September 14, 2009]

    There, in “Short takes,” Sept. 14, Claudine expressed a positive critical evaluation of von Zweck @ threewalls:

    “I really love his paintings…” and, “von Zweck makes ‘gorgeous’ paintings…”

    For having written those things, you, Wesley Kimler, publicly chastised her. Now, I do agree with you, Wesley, and with “Sane” above: von Zweck’s paintings suck it.

    But it doesn’t matter. Rather than recant, Claudine took her valuations and inserted them into Artforum:


    Five entries currently, in order:

    Allan Sekula @ The Renaissance Society [photo]
    Doug Ischar @ Golden [photo]
    Philip von Zweck @ threewalls [painting]
    Julia Hechtman @ Devening Projects [photo]
    Melanie Schiff @ Kavi Gupta [photo]

    Reference Philip von Zweck @ threewalls:
    “Executed on standard-size canvases, the works betray tensions between mass production and private authorship. Stripes, squares, and circles spray-painted with varying levels of intensity are allowed to bubble, pool, and crackle, yet their aphoristic titles, taken from Situationist-inspired street graffiti…”

    Pay attention to the actions–and not the aliases or flatterers. Watch as people use the word, “community,” and pretend to engage in dialogue, but then pursue their own vision of the good.

  17. Claudine Ise says:

    Paul, the word ‘recant’ seems an inappropriate one to use when speaking about statements made in an art review (hastily drawn though the BaS one was). But more importantly, I want to make it clear – any art critic or opinion writer in any field who would “recant” their words (we’re not talking about incorrect facts or recollections, here, but opinion) due to public pressure from folks who have a difference of opinion would be a very weak one indeed.

  18. R. Szott says:

    Paul – Where on earth did you get the idea that I’m an artist, a “relational” one at that? If I’m an artist at all, I’m an escape artist or as most would say – a bullsh*t artist.

    I wonder what you mean by my “sudden appearance.” Maybe as a commenter? I was interviewed here in episode 147 and co-hosted #195.

    Wesley – Leave it to you to declare someone you *like* a mind numbing retard.

    Tony – Kudos for your mea culpa and the defense of your wife. You’re a class act Tasset. Did you hear Jon took 200K from Kate?

  19. The Shark says:

    Szott – -it was a typo on my part -retards is what I meant -and it was hardly intended with anything more than appreciation of your position-s, where they leave you, the necessary weaknesses of any good situationally posited aesthetic (or otherwise) argument, in other words, I was oddly enough being complimentary- appreciating what you were acquiescing strategically.. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading what you have had to say, which have given me pause to consider much-

    As for Tony, he doesn’t start out here as a ‘class act’ though he does manage to clean up his act in the end…I appreciate it -and I also admire his willing to defend those in his life he loves- but understand Mr. Szott what you are considering here is very much, a two way street: there are those whom I have long stood up for -though sometimes people who do not know me confuse this, thinking I am speaking/forwarding only my own self interest: -when Tony and company came on the scene here in the mid 80’s -that emergence marks the end of pluralism here -up until recent times……get, that I am the one defending so many people who were marginalized, careers that were lost, artist who will remain unnamed -due to the fact that though they still practice, one can only wonder what their work could have been with the support that was yanked out from under then -in order to confer importance on a singular, small group of artists here. This small clique who for so long held the scene here in a virtual stranglehold… its ending now and like I said I appreciate Mr Tassets civility even after the fact of years of attrition. As one prominent artist here said to me, “so much has been lost for so little”…

    Tony you may feel old and perhaps exhaustion has set in for you, I honestly hope not. I certainly value you. We have been foes of a kind -and perhaps those days are indeed numbered- still, don’t play the victim here..it’s hardly true – is a false position. ….

    painting as Grace Hartigan once wrote to me, is a long game. I am as David Galenson might describe it, an experimenter, who like most really good painters before me on the American Painting scene has taken a long while to come to where I am at today….and where exactly is that? On the old thing you will have to speak for yourself Tony. Me, I’m in my prime.

    My argument has always been for a healthy pluralism in contrast to the simplistic terms my enemies have tried to portray me in – as a philosopher once said, “do not mistake me for what I am not”

  20. Gwendolynne says:

    Apartment shows ghettoizing Chicago?
    That is such a ridiculous statement. Sorry but these start ups make Chicago unique to NY and LA. Chicago has great artists stop bitching at each other.

  21. John says:

    That is all many of these bitter exceedingly verbose folks are capable of. When is the last time Wesley had anything nice to say about anyone other than himself or those who have benefited him?

  22. vc says:

    To go back to the first few comments, it seems that instead of determining if and when and who said painting is/was dead, it might be more interesting to recall the general anxiety that was felt, at least by me and I cant be alone because i picked it up in grad school in 99-2000, and to ask if that anxiety lingers, and is it good news if painting is “triumphant” ?
    Also, to get more concrete, what conversations are occurring in painting today? Kimler potentially starts one up when he says (if I recall correctly) “screw Chris Wool-I’m a better painter than him.” So we can ask then what are the different sets of values that would make someone agree or disagree? Wool began his sprayed and wiped mostly black gestures 8-ish years ago, and it would seem to be dead territory, parodying the authenticity of the mark, but somehow these paintings fascinate, surprise and delight me. Maybe “parody” really has collapsed or re-emerged back into aesthetics. or they are much more than my theoretical pigeon-holing.

    I’m not in chicago & havent seen the show-maybe the Wools are the text ones, which are even more baffling to me, but also hard to dismiss. So who wants to dismiss them and why? because of the mark? Because Kimler’s mark is more tactile and nuanced? but can nuance be manifested in other ways?

  23. The Shark says:

    vc -you might be making too much of my Wool comment -I actually do like some of his work -its just so much fun to bug out Duncan (particularly in person) with what ever is readily at hand- and unlike Richard’s weekly Duncan evisceration, for some of us, its more of a rare pleasure.

  24. The Shark says:

    Apartment shows ghettoizing Chicago?
    That is such a ridiculous statement. Sorry but these start ups make Chicago unique to NY and LA. Chicago has great artists stop bitching at each other…

    Gwendolynne..I don’t disagree with you -in that at the moment of this interview -I wasn’t particularly on top of my game when it came to articulating exactly what I was thinking (in fact, I needed to think about it more-before saying anything) -to the point that I have written some small amount on this very subject to rectify that- this will come up, part of a larger piece, over the next few days on sharkforum -as we FINALLY relaunch-……one point that I will make now though is, that while I concur with you that Chicago has some really very good artists – why is it when you consider that Chicago has so much more readily available cheap warehouse space -far more so than either LA or NYC….are we limiting ourselves to apartments? Just a thought- I love the idea of artists showing their own work -obviously, working together to do so-as demonstrated by the way I do thing things myself.

  25. vc says:

    i see- and can certainly understand – it is fun to bug the buggable. no offense to Duncan

  26. The Shark says:

    Tony-fyi-“who has said that painting is dead in the last 40 years?”

    “Tuymans’s thinly brushed, drab-looking (but sneakily lovely) canvases, usually based on banal photographs with wispy political associations, dramatize the fallen state of painting since the nineteen-sixties. Tuymans also discovers in the very humiliation of the medium a surprising vitality.” Peter Schjeldahl -New Yorker October 12, 2009

  27. Paul Germanos says:

    If painting lives, it lives in the person of the painter.

    The painter’s career is facilitated by the degree, the show, the review, the grant, and the collection.

    Choosing to give those things to one artist [and withhold them from another artist] the professor, gallerist, critic, administrator, and curator, either help or hinder not only the individual but also “the life” of said individual’s chosen mode of expression.

    Without painters, painting dies. With poor painters, painting lives poorly.

    “Constellations” is a great show. But the “life” of painting is much more closely linked to the choices made, now, by Elizabeth, Shannon and Claudine.

    Ignoring what has been said, and looking at what has been done: Over the course of the past year’s exhibition program painting has lived at threewalls as a means of transforming the environment of the gallery space. Christa Donner and Amy Mayfield left behind “paintings” and kept “painting.”

    Donner’s message was hostile to my gender and religion; Mayfield’s message was never clear to me. But it was clear that both of them had put time into their “practices” and their respective shows. Effort, commitment and honesty were on display.

    With von Zweck the case is different. His paintings look like lazy little things. Choosing to give him a “one-man show” at threewalls, followed by a review in ArtForum, has the effect of harming “painting” both by rewarding a lack of effort–and also by withholding a reward from some other painter who did make an effort. Too, to the extent that ArtForum is a national and international publication Chicago’s reputation suffers.

    More broadly, the apartment gallery phenomena tolerates–and probably encourages–shoddy workmanship, small scale, short-lived objects and environments, etc.

    Can painting survive in such an environment? Yes. Can all types of painting survive in such an environment? No. Wesley Kimler and painters like him [and this isn’t a question of temperament or style, but rather one of scale, technique, and time invested] should be interested, maybe even concerned, about the manner in which “the community’s” resources are being allocated.

    Moderating between “criticism” and “advocacy” should be something like “stewardship.” In Chicago such a long-term concern for all the parts of the whole, widely-held, has been chronically absent.

  28. The Shark says:

    Paul, the gallery scene here in Chicago is not something that interests or concerns me.

  29. I like the idea of ‘stewardship,’ PG.

    An interesting discussion — podcast AND comments. The comments edge on “civil” argument. WK and TT being almost amicable, … amazing. See what happens when I am away in France for two weeks.

    I understand what you mean Tony — practicing artists have generally been more inclusive than theory-junkie-critics, especially the last 20-some years. However, The death of painting is still rather often proclaimed by theory-laden “text” authors, international curators (such as Catherine David, et al), and quite a few “artworld powers that be,” especially in academia — by the way, — or alternatively, painting is declared to be only possible if it concentrates on deriding itself. You are right though, it seems ever sillier. All that “what is Dead” stuff was an important part of Modernism, and such statements are what is dead. I’m even old enough to have lived through two “deaths” of video art!

  30. Richard says:

    I wish performance art would die. Anyone wanna pitch in for a hit-man?

  31. And I want to open a hit man fund for the idea of Neo-Conceptualists making photo-real paintings by having paid employee-assistants paint from their photoshop collages. I have seen at least 7 ex-painting haters now doing that.

  32. The Shark says:

    Mark you must mean among others, Rudolf Stingel…..he of Duncan’s faaaaaaaaaavorite MCA Exhibition in recent memory……why did I even bring up Wool when this was such an easier, more obvious hit? I must be slipping-

    -do non-painters even get how easy photo realists paintings are to make? Whip out the slide projector, do a grid, tune in to your favorite soap operas -all part of the photo real methodology -to help wile away the time as you fill in the blanks…playing the part of a human photo copy machine- probably why the best of this group- were all a pretty dull lot.

    And now we have the most affluent of the fat cat neo- conceptualists -hiring art students to do the copying for them…completely bankrupt, crass garbage. Just because there is paint and canvas involved, doesn’t mean this junk has much to do with actual painting- this is where the confusion lies -in some peoples unfortunate minds.

  33. Rob Davis says:

    Dear Paul Germanos,

    We really like the b/w photos you took at our opening. Anyway we can get copies?

    Sorry for butting in people.

  34. R&M, Shoot an e-mail to:
    and I’ll reply w/ links to S/M/L files.
    Cheers, PG.

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