Marc Quinn, Irises, Uptown; Eric Fischl, Corrida in Ronda, Chelsea

Mary Boone's Galleries to December 19

By: - Dec 10, 2009

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This may best the best show yet by figurative painter, Eric Fischl, at Mary BooneÂ’s Chelsea Gallery at 541 West 24th Street. There is a tandem show of paintings with the British artist, Marc Quinn, uptown in BooneÂ’s gallery at 745 Fifth Avenue. Both New York shows run through December 19.

The bravura style of slathering on broad swaths of paint by Fischl has been popular with the public and snapped up by collectors. But critics have often commented on his flaccid stroke, gimmicky subject matter, and glitchy style over substance.

Early on, he was eager for attention with adolescent porn such as an enigmatic painting of a boy hunched over masturbating in a back yard wading pool. Or couples hooking up illuminated by the soft romantic light of a television screen. Then there were his travel paintings from the Caribbean (scenes of some kind of mayhem) to his Passage to Indian series. When in doubt paint something erotic or exotic.

Now it seems that Fischl has taken up the theme of bullfights. Posters of which adorn the walls of many a college student returning from junior year abroad. Ole. There is legitimacy in the subject well explored by Ernest Hemingway at his best., or Goya during the 19th century.

While hardly an aficionado of the pasodoble the series of large paintings at Mary Boone convey the heat and passion of the bull ring. He has exploited the vivid color of the suit of lights of the brave toreadors. The compositions are bold and powerful with matadors starkly rendered in a fight to the death with the specially bred bulls.

Mostly Fischl, who worked with his own photographs, concentrates on the moment of truth. The action which is staged and drawn out with traditional ritual and accompanying music is here cut to the chase. Attending an actual bull fight is an afternoon long affair rather like sitting through a baseball game. Indeed, for Spaniards, it is the national sport. They see subtle differences in the style of individual toreros and the quality and fight of the bull. The most massive and ferocious bulls are reserved for the most famous matadors.  

On any given day the bull may win. Stepping into the ring the torero puts his life on the line.

Not that I imagine Fischl knows much or really cares about all this. Rather, he seems to be looking for a juicy, gutsy, and popular subject to paint. In that sense, the series is successful as it certainly holds and sustains our attention. Looking carefully at individual works there is evidence that, finally, he is becoming an at least competent painter. The forms and masses seem refreshingly solid. Often his figures in the past seemed glib and fudged when examined closely. To Fischl we award one ear and a rose. Ole.

Visiting BooneÂ’s uptown gallery there was an initial sense of wonder and surprise. Wait a minute, whatÂ’s this? Can this be the same Marc Quinn, the Young British Artist, of the Charles Saatchi exhibition Sensation at the Brooklyn Museum?

The artist, born 1964, is best known for Self (1991) a small work of the artistÂ’s own blood sculpted into a portrait head and kept frozen. It was widely reported as lost when SaatchiÂ’s apartment was renovated and workers unplugged the refrigerator. It took ten pints of the artistÂ’s blood collected over five months. The story may be apocryphal as Saatchi later sold the work to an American collector for 1. 5 million pounds.

Several years ago I saw an installation of QuinnÂ’s fascinating marble sculptures of amputees and individuals with birth defects embedded in the collection of vintage works and plaster casts at LondonÂ’s Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. He is also known for a sculpture of Allison Lapper Pregnant on the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square. The plinth is used for an ongoing display of sculptures by contemporary British artists.

The surprise here were paintings, tondos of large colorful eyes, rather than sculptures. Had it not been for QuinnÂ’s name and reputation this might be an interesting but hardly exceptional exhibition. It is a clever idea given the scale and subject but hardly another Sensation.

It is good to see that Quinn is keeping himself busy and coming up with new ideas. What a Boone for us all.