Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Jenny Saville’s Got Religion

Jerry Saltz doesn’t need to worry about splintered guitars being put back together again, humpty dumpty style or even the ghost of Duchamp plaguing us forever although on some days I wake up cursing and wishing the Mutt’d been strangled in his sleep and on other days thinking he did the greatest service to artkind that’s ever been done but more on all that later…Like I said ‘not to worry’…somebody’s been doing their homework and leave it to the Italian’s to recognize one of their own…

Jenny Saville’s got religion, ponder her new triptych installation for the Bilotti Chapel in Rome. If she were a soccer star, I’d be a wild, raving fan…panting after painting! Art with a capital A just doesn’t get any better than this. Is she merely aping the patrimony of the Renaissance or is she reaching down with secular hands into an ancient vein of iconography, a complex renewal of the tactile painted vision…and they said it couldn’t be done. This new work sends her deeper into her covenant with painting, her exploration of the mortal body…plying an archaic complexity, she’s working her way into the mystery. Charged ecstasy, adoration…a leap to divine love? Make no mistake, this is no leap but a steady, clean stride through halls previously trod only by Michelangelo, Rembrandt, you know, the big guys…While everybody’s over at Art Basel paying a deserved homage to James Rosenquist’s, ‘Ode to Human Rights’…here we’ve got the real thing…the paint is ‘gut’ instinctive not calibrated, no need for the pantone chips or a graph chart here. Willful and in command, her color is real and the texture of her brush dances…pure broad swaths of thick creamery…measured, defining strokes, a pliant, confident strength lifts the image…tissue and muscle surface and shape the body…the human visage emerges, technique is transcended, honed and refined to masterpiece standard. One can feel the adrenaline, these paintings breath. She can finally leave off talking about de Kooning and take down her studio reference image of Rembrandt’s, ‘Woman Bathing in a Stream’. This consummate mark making is an astounding combination of abstraction, figuration and meaning…humankind cast out of the garden, the fullness of the body’s magnificent enigma placed front and center…Jenny Saville walks with the giants now…and her passion takes us with her…

Stephanie Bell Behnke

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