Critics’ Picks: New York: Roger Brown — Alex Jovanovich

Artforum, 12.08.2016

Chicago Imagism: second-rate Pop from a Second City that had its moment—for about a second—too many years ago. This, of course, is all bullshit, but it is the narrative that’s been built around this Midwestern movement of painting and sculpture, which privileged interiority, eccentricity, folksiness, and craft—aspects that seemed woefully out of step with what was happening in New York and Europe during the 1960s and ’70s.

Roger Brown, one of Chicago’s finest, was an inveterate collector of things and their stories, and his catholic tastes—from carnie art to dime store kitsch, images of the apocalypse, and even Kenny Rogers—permeated his extraordinary body of work. His current outing, “Virtual Still Life,” gathers eleven objects he made during the ’90s and might be one of the loveliest shows to hit New York this summer. Here, paintings pose as theatrical backdrops for a variety of found or thrifted vessels (primarily ceramic), elegantly arranged on lacquered shelves attached to the paintings’ frames.

Think of these works as little Haim Steinbachs, sans cynicism and postmodern pedantry, exquisite in their quasi-religious displays of pattern, play, and gentle humor. Brown’s painting/shrines feel like hybrids of Charles Rennie Mackintosh wallpaper and psychedelic band posters. Some are inhabited by tiny silhouettes of people, either enamored or aghast by the luscious fields of color splayed out before them, like miniature Dorothys about to be swallowed up by their rainbows. Virtual Still Life #12: Modernistic Planter With Half A Desert Painting, 1995, is a triangular wing nut of a work that flirts shamelessly with full-on grandma decor. It is pretty, nostalgic, and beautifully made—déclassé in all the best ways.