Near Myth

MoCA's celebration of the '80s painting revival shows too few signs of life

The showstoppers here are two oil-on-linen works by Eric Fischl that reclaim painting in both figurative and narrative terms. Fischl embraces realism just far enough to seduce us into his sex-and-violence-charged tableaux, which bristle with ambiguous narrative possibilities. Haircut (1985) is ostensibly a portrait of a woman cutting her own hair, but she's crouched, awkwardly and provocatively, nude on the bathroom floor, with a small round mirror that seems aimed not at her head but at her crotch.

In A Woman Possessed (1981), the narrative possibilities accrue with alarming speed and intensity. The ingredients are simple: an old-fashioned station wagon, a bicycle, half a dozen dogs, a drinking glass, a stack of notebooks, and two humans, the title woman and another figure, who could be either male or female. But every attempt to concoct a potential scenario is somehow subverted. Each ingredient is conceivably a red herring that thwarts our efforts to make sense of the imagery, giving the painting an unresolvable -- and riveting -- ambiguity.

In the decade since the 1980s, of course, countless artists have made it abundantly clear that painting is far from dead. But of the artists in this show, it's Kiefer, Bleckner, and Fischl whom I'd trust to keep it alive, not Schnabel, Salle, and their ilk.

Not enough works in this show rise to the level of Eric Fischl's A Woman Possessed (1981)
Not enough works in this show rise to the level of Eric Fischl's A Woman Possessed (1981)

Details

On display through May 13, 305-893-6211
Museum of Contemporary Art, Joan Lehman Building, 770 NE 125th St., North Miami

The Museum of Contemporary Art is also presenting To Sin or Not To Sin, another annual production by Cuban-born artist Pablo Cano, who constructs rod puppets from found objects. William Bilowit's script for this short morality play about the seven sins versus the seven virtues is numbingly facile, but Cano's ingenious puppets, some of them life-size, are a marvel to behold.

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