Beauty And Its Discontents

Robert Kushner, Many Anemones (2008), glitter, gold leaf and copper leaf on canvas, 84″ x 120″; courtesy DC Moore Gallery

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While trawling the internet, I came across Alexandra Anderson-Spivy’s review of the Robert Kushner exhibition at DC Moore Gallery. As a long-time fan of Kushner’s hothouse fusions of Asian painting and American abstraction–really, where would the paintings be without the precedent set by Hans Hofmann?–I’ve been kicking myself for not having yet made it to DC Moore’s new Chelsea space.

But maybe I should be kicking other people–people who’ll have no truck with beauty. Anderson-Spivy describes Kushner as:

“An under-celebrated artist often penalized for his devotion to beauty.”

Are there people out there still harboring a grudge for beauty? I thought the “beauty is back” vogue drummed up by the critic Dave Hickey a few years back made the water safe for those antsy about nice things to look at. Of course, a lot of artists make things that aren’t meant to be looked at in the first place. Puts me in mind of Regarding Beauty, an exhibition mounted by The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 2000. It wasn’t beautiful at all.

The nature of beauty has been argued for ages, as befits a subject whose standards are ever-evolving and whose presence is as plain as the proverbial nose on your face. “There is something crazy”, Peter Schjeldahl rightfully noted in The New Yorker, “about a culture in which the value of beauty becomes controversial.” If Kushner has been penalized because of a devotion to beauty, well, that says more about the priggery of the anti-beauty crowd than it does about his generous and bountiful vision.

© 2011 Mario Naves

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