Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Sympathizing with Computers at Gavin Brown Enterprise

Avery Singer subtly challenges traditional notions of painting in her show “Days of the Weak (Computer Pain)" at Gavin Brown Enterprise. Set against a backdrop of blue grids, her crude 3D renderings clearly draw attention to the digitality of the works. In a medium that reveres the demonstration of the hand of the artist, Singer removes all signs of her own workmanship in her paintings by modeling them digitally, then carefully recreating the models through airbrushing.
The first painting one sees upon walking into the gallery is Calder (Saturday Night), which I thought was interesting because it was the most unlike the other pieces. Calder is Singer’s only painting in the show that has a collaged look in addition to appearing airbrushed, and only painting that features a recognizably human figure smoking a joint and staring at a light in his hand, as if in a trance. The painting feels voyeuristic, as if the viewer is intruding in. The color of the wall is a sickly green and a foreboding shadow casts over the figure from the direction of the viewer.
This ominous tone is repeated in Kundry, named after a mythological figure but depicted as a pink humanoid sitting in a gridded room. The way the figure fills the frame, its complete lack of headroom, and the harsh contrast of light and dark are evocative of a prison cell. Many of Singer’s paintings, including Kundry, have a claustrophobic quality to them that is elevated in the open, high-ceilinged galleries at Gavin Brown. Because parameters such as foreground, background, and walls are clearly defined, the paintings feel even more confined to their own spaces.
While Calder evokes a feeling of simultaneously being captivated and held captive by technology; the computer demon in Kundry hangs its head low, as if in sympathy or defeat. These paradoxes in human and humanoid behavior pose an interesting question of whether the “pain” described in the title of the show is referring to the pain of computers, or pain caused by computers to humans.
Singer’s work speaks to today’s digital world, but feels oddly dated. Her airbrushed painting technique reminds me of the '90s computer game Kid Pix, and the neon blue grid feels like an overused science fiction trope. One of the Untitled pieces, a painting of a giant earring on a background of blue skies and green grass, resembles a Windows XP Background. These elements of the show feel representative of the difficulties in making art about today’s technology, which evolves so fast that using styles from the '90s already feels nostalgic.


  1. I agree that looking at Avery's paintings in the GBE I definitely felt that they were oddly dated. However a search on google images of the paintings mentioned in your review completely wiped the antiquated feeling- perhaps the industrial brick gallery walls and the steel beams rendered the paintings with their sense of time. Perhaps Avery's paintings, simulating gridlines of modeling softwares like Rhino or AutoCAD, are meant to be viewed on computers. I find them more provocative through the high-res screens of nowadays technologies. It's interesting that these works are meant to be analogue digital-abstractions but are re-digitalized for better viewing.

  2. Avery’s work definitely is not like today’s computer-generated images. They look like rough rendered images, like you says, the style of 90’s computer graphics. But I think her works raise a good question, what is painting for? There's an irony in her work, because her work is neither a recording of the physical world nor a usual abstract painting. If the computer can generated what we want to see, why we paint it? It also reminds me the photorealism.