A little gem hidden at Mary Boone

Eric Fischl, Christie Sitting in Neil's Truck

The Eric Fishl show at Mary Boone is both repellent and wonderful, though not at the same time, and not in the same measure. You walk in to see a large interior with a man in a business suit bearing up a naked woman, reclined on his lap—as if he’s offering her to the viewer on a platter. It’s a masterful image, wonderfully painted, but it’s also routinely startling, in Fischl’s de rigeur way, with creepy and intriguing sexuality. I lingered there on the way out, I’ll admit it. As Ken Johnson put it in The New York Times:

A painting in the foyer of Ms. Boone’s Chelsea location is woefully emblematic. Based, like all his portraits, on a photograph and painted in Mr. Fischl’s signature, lushly sensuous style, it pictures the model, actress and artist Anh Duong lying naked across the lap of the elegantly dressed Simon de Pury, the auctioneer and co-star of Bravo’s reality television series “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist.” A blasphemous Pietà, it flaunts a sophisticated but pointless decadence.

The painting is visually powerful, but is this sort of thing really shocking anymore? If he’s trying to remind us of Manet, he does, but he doesn’t fare well in the comparison here. This is Fishl’s familiar trope, sophisticated decadence, and it makes you wonder why he puts so much effort into such elitist imagery: until you see all the red dots at the front desk. Much of the show has a similar creepiness, but from a different direction: it’s as if he wants to show how blissfully oblivious the “one percent” still is, partying on the beach, clothed or otherwise–but these are his friends right, so are they supposed to see how superfluous they look in these pictures? Or else he’s showing how beautiful and cool our media celebrities still appear, in their private lives, even when they sit in an unforgiving shaft of sunlight. I mean, is he just trying to make us all feel even more miserable for having to struggle to make enough money to pay our bills?

Yet, if you hunt in the back room of the gallery, you’ll be rewarded at least once. I didn’t start writing this post to grumble, but to lavishly praise one painting I saw hidden back there: Christy Sitting in Neil’s Truck. It happens to be the first image you see at the Mary Boone page promoting the exhibition, so I may not be the only one who thinks its far superior to the rest of the work.

I loved it primarily for its loose brushwork, nothing overworked, nothing belabored, just a liquid pool of color that seems to eddy and flow into focus, without distorting the image much, showing you an ordinary-looking woman in a truck, gazing into the sunlight toward the camera. She’s probably another of Fischl’s important friends, but this scene doesn’t seem to expect or require you to know it. It captures the feel of the snapshot that served as its source, without slavishly reproducing the image, so the painting is full of life, and because of the way the vehicle creates blocks of color, the image’s abstract qualities strengthen its power. I stood there gazing at this painting wondering why Fischl doesn’t venture outside his economic strata more often and put his amazing skills to use capturing more scenes like this, letting his clear love of color evoke the kind of ordinary, mundane, but beautiful moments all of us experience: light filtering through trees, sunlight on a friendly face, the plaid pattern in a woman’s ordinary wool sweater, and the shimmer of a newly washed red truck. It doesn’t seem to depict someone laden with assets or fame. Been there, seen that, nothing extraordinary going on—and  that’s what’s so wonderful about looking at such a moment, with fresh and attentive eyes, through the medium of paint.


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