A Painter in Need of a Spanking: Andrew Masullo

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Andrew Masullo, 5378 (2011-2012), oil on canvas, 24″ x 20″; courtesy Mary Boone Gallery and Feature, Inc.

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The following review was originally published in the July 12, 2004 edition of The New York Observer and is posted here on the occasion of Andrew Masullo at Mary Boone Gallery, Chelsea (until April 27).

There are artists we hate to love and artists we love to hate. Most artists don’t make a dent; nonentities rarely do. Then there are artists in need of a spanking: painters and sculptors of talent, skill and vision incapable of resisting their worst impulses. Chief on the list for corporal punishment is Andrew Masullo, whose recent paintings are at Joan T. Washburn Gallery.

Mr. Masullo partakes of a distinctly American brand of abstraction, a tradition that mines high modernist style for individualistic–that is to say, independent and eccentric–purposes. The pictures are lovingly delineated and kitsch-inflected amalgamations of organic shape and geometric pattern. Taking inspiration from the paintings of Alice Trumbull Mason, Myron Stout and Thomas Nozkowski, Mr. Masullo is as singular, rigorous and uncompromising as his predecessors. He can nip and tuck a composition with the best of them. That doesn’t prevent him from indulging in groan-inducing cutesy-pie tactics.

3Andrew Masullo, 5369 (2011), oil on canvas, 20″ x 24″; courtesy Mary Boone Gallery and Feature, Inc.

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In one canvas, he appends cartoony hands and arms onto an array of floating rectangles; in another, an iconic black circle, Malevich-like in its portent, is transformed into a Christmas ornament. All the while, his oversweetened palette makes our teeth ache. Mr. Masullo is clearly capable of standing outside of style in order to ridicule it, yet his mockery is amiable, even at times a bit dreamy. The sensibility is acidic, not malevolent–Mr. Masullo only hurts the ones he loves. Sacrificing gravity for cheap caprice, his aesthetic is rooted in the quirks of personality. Nihilism has nothing to do with it.

How willing you are to forgive Mr. Masullo the kiddie biomorphism and insouciance depends on one’s taste. Me, I enjoy his sharp wit, applaud his pictorial steadfastness and consider the excess of paintings–over 30!–a token of generosity. Not that we should be grateful for everything that runneth out of Mr. Masullo’s cup; too many of the pictures are flighty or hermetic. When he does pull one off–as in 4067 , with its spic-and-span array of stripes, or the cut-rate psychedelia of 4066 (both 2003)–you realize Mr. Masullo is a precocious nuisance you’re willing to put up with.

© 2004 Mario Naves

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