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William Turner Gallery, Venice
By JAMES SCARBOROUGH
ART/TEXT No 63
With this body of work, Arron Sturgeon wipes the abstraction slate clean. Playing a clever endgame, he mounts a flanking attack of irony and redundancy to scourge the rooks of his modernist heritage. In This is not your Tabula Rasa (1998), he comments with brio on the ultimate non-issue of the either/or tendency of much of twentieth-century abstraction (i.e., your either in the geometric camp or the gestural). The physical efforts invested in and refracted by the image is extraordinary: continents of painted gestural fragments, collaged or painted directly on the canvas, drifting like tectonic plates across a vague and indeterminate ground; bits of geometric shapes, small in scale relative to the continents, moons and other shapes in the process of being eclipsed by other continents. If the work of Sam Francis, which these recall in cosmology if not cheery primary colors, represents a moment of time hydraulically squashed flat, then this piece represents a chunk of melting ambergris, revealing the detritus is really the shards of Pollock and de Kooning, as well as second-generation Abstract Expressionists, the Parisian Circle and Square Group of the 1930s, and a boogie-woogie Mondrian, filtered through a calculating sensibility.
Indeed while this piece, not unlike the other works in the show, at first glance scintillates with raw painterly energy-with it's various localized tensions, bumping continents, and eddies of devoured geometric shapes-there nonetheless exists a disjunction between the dramas and the way in which they are depicted.No matter how frenetic it may appear, each painting is meticulously constructed, literally from the ground up. It's like Sturgeon performs surgery on abstraction while remaining clinically unperturbed. Indeed if looked at long enough, each piece looses it's dynamic luster and appears oddly spent, as if the process of it's articulation only allowed it to bump and grind for so long.
A negative comment on the show? Hardly. To his credit, the young Sturgeon marshals abstraction's components onto a Verdun and mounts one of the supercilious battles royal which dotted the landscape of twentieth-century abstraction. Yet it's a mock battle staged for a photo op. In this, Sturgeon franchises Mark Tansey Follies. Like Tansey, who parodies modernism in his celebrated paintings of the French stalwarts (Matisse on horseback, Picasso sulking) ceding art world supremacy to the New York School, Sturgeon thumbs his nose at the competing factions. Yet while Tansey paints a world-weary dream monochrome of a photograph, Sturgeon baldly acknowledges the extent to which the whole thing is a tempest in a paint can. After all, art nowadays must close ranks against three common enemies: bigots, censors, and philistines.
And this explains why, in the final analysis, this show is so funny: funny like the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. If ever there was a body of work that so clearly brayed about the irrelevancies of hermeticism, the Other, the margins, the auteur's apotheosis, the auteur's demise, and imposed dichotomies, this is it. Sturgeon shreds critical discourse. His work is handsome, not cute; significantly transitional, he is Duchampean Gilbert and Sullivan to a Derridean Wagner.