Art on the Lagoon

06.03.13

Warts and All – and Hairs, and Moles ...

The Daily Pic (Venice Biennale Edition): Ellen Altfest succeeds when her paint fails to conquer the real.
Ellen Alfest's "The Back", at the Venice Biennale
(Photo by Lucy Hogg)

A visitor looks at Ellen Altfest’s “The Back”, painted over the course of many months of full-time labor in 2008 and 2009 and now one of the highpoints in the Biennale’s curated group show. Although the exhibition was stuffed with painting, most of it was work of the “imagination”, with all the attendant clichés. Not much of it had strong ties to the world. Although I have no interest in tired high-realist technique, Altfest’s studies of the male nude, said to have been painted from life, seem less about the final result than about the tireless observation that got her there.  And there is some sense that all her looking and painting and looking and painting turns out to be a sisyphean task; reality refuses to cooperate with our desire to absorb it.  Altfest's work may be closer to conceptual art than to standard painting: the canvases put on view are simply documentation of an absurdist process.

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