Phillip Allen at P.S.1

Phillip Allen, The Falestorm (2002), oil on board, 14-1/3 x 18-1/2 x 2″; courtesy P.S.1

* * *

It figures: The work of an interesting British artist is being exhibited at P.S. 1, so I head out to the museum–only to find that Phillip Allen’s abstract paintings have been consigned to a dreary, out-of-the-way gallery, a ghetto for dead art. The cloistered oppressiveness of the room (dank air spewed by an air conditioner) was such that the gentleman working security paced back and forth as if he were being held in solitary confinement. The paintings couldn’t offer him much solace, I’m afraid. As with many artists nowadays, Mr. Allen is a victim of the willful ignorance spawned by postmodernism. Art, for him, is a matter of shuffling styles once over lightly.

Establishing a burnished, atmospheric field of thinned oil paint on each canvas, framing it with crusty bands of impasto and plunking a decorative motif right in the middle, Mr. Allen couples the romantic and the kitsch-inflected, the visceral and the suave, the heroic and the hermetic. In doing so, he “reinvigorates pictorial conventions”–or so we’re told. What he’s actually doing is cranking out pictures according to a formula, industriously re-tweaking the same set of painterly clichés. Having established a product line, Mr. Allen has seen his careerist savvy vindicated: The paintings now carry the P.S. 1 stamp of approval. This will make him the envy of many of his peers. But those who expect more from art than marketing strategy will think twice before making the trip out to Long Island City.

© 2003 Mario Naves

Originally published in the August 11, 2003 edition of The New York Observer.

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