Frank Lind, The Misses Vickers 2 (2009), oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″; courtesy 210 Gallery
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Eccentricity in art isn’t a virtue unless it’s bolstered by aesthetic merit, by how well an artist uses the materials of his medium to endow personal quirks with body and purpose. Having said that, skill alone (or force of will) can’t generate eccentricity; ersatz eccentricity is a hollow thing, a pose by which the artist advertises his own prerogatives. It’s not a pretty sight—look at John Currin and his witless affectations currently on display at the uptown branch of Gagosian Gallery.
Frank Lind, whose paintings are at 210 Gallery in Brooklyn, is less flagrant than Currin—he’s not flagrant at all, in fact—but he is preoccupied with similar motifs, among them traditional modes of picture making, art history and nude women. Nude, not naked: Whatever salaciousness resides in Lind’s canvases is offset by sardonic and not un-tender curiosity. What, he wonders, would John Singer Sargent’s Madame X look like without her evening gown? There she is at 210, rendered with wry gravity and from a model who isn’t a sloping array of serpentine contours, but is refreshingly ordinary in body type.
Lind does the same to other Sargent paintings—starkly in a reconfigured version of The Sisters Vickers and with silky intent in Fumee d’Ambre Gris, wherein all that remains of the raiment covering a “stately Mohammedan”—that would be Henry James’ description—is a lifted veil. Elsewhere, Lind creates a suite of paintings depicting a model juxtaposed with landmarks of Western painting and engages in a step-by-step construction of a single image, from drawing to grisaille to finished product.
What on earth is Lind up to? Perhaps he’s re-claiming the male gaze from feminist readings of art history. Or maybe he’s engaging in postmodernist caprice. (Did I mention the Sea Level paintings, oddly didactic exegeses on global warming and, less overtly, Winslow Homer?) What Lind is mostly up to is paying homage, albeit with laconic tongue almost imperceptibly wedged in cheek, to painters he loves. “Great fun, this,” Lind says of his “visceral” dialogues with history. It’s a not unproblematic accomplishment, but how eccentric would the pictures be if they went down easily? Not at all, and that’s to Lind’s credit and our consternation.
© 2010 Mario Naves