Everybody makes fun of the Whitney Bienial. But the big surprise this time is they got a couple of things right. Like the hauntingly sad photos of the returning Iraq War vet who, blown up by a crazy Jihadist’s bomb, is returning as a monster with an awful, huge reconstructed head to marry his waiting-for-him, high school sweetheart. She, dutifully committed, does indeed marry, then seperates right away. It’s too much. You can’t really blame her and seeing the photos of his return to her from the war will stay with you forever.
On a lighter note one of our favorite artists, Mr. Rbt. Williams got in. Good for you Rbt. Williams!
Even if they did choose to exhibit some limp watercolors (or maybe Prismacolors) it’s still great to see someone who actually deserves recognition get in the Whitney. His big paintings might have been a better choice but would have put all the rest of the junk in the show to shame, like the entire room given over to a stupid painted white ambulance, a college art project really, at best an Edward Kienholtz ripoff with a movie playing inside. Another video piece is by a self indulgent woman artist telling us about, what else? Herself. Kicking her way out of a little sheetrock box. Hauntingly boring.
Rbt.’s opening a few years ago was really one of the scariest I’ve ever been to, Characters in plastic goth masks, women with yellow lipstick in togas, super long black fingernails, Halloween costumed, tattooed pierced-everywhere people. I think I saw a big lizard animal being walked in as a pet. And me in my nicest golf jacket. Teasing him at this show, ok, like pulling a tiger’s tail, it was, I asked for an autrograph, got it , then said something like ‘I’m going home to put this right up on my wall!’ Whereupon he leaned in way too close, hostile like actually, and said “You take that right to the grave with you son”. A scary surprise! As he looks a lot like Mr. Rogers.
He’s an enigma who doesn’t own a personal computer and yet is the publisher of the widely popular art magazine, Juxtapoz. Suzanne is his very sweet and likable wife, a good abstract painter on her own merit. They live in a modest house in the San Fernando Valley, some rooms are filled floor to ceiling with an oddball Kaiser helmet collection.
No one alive thinks of better titles for their paintings. No one combines fantasy with reality this well since Dali burned giraffes and dripped watches from trees. In “The Voice From the Wee Gee Board” a sweet young thing innocently ponders a move on a Ouija board, while above her, floating in another dimension, a leering, muscled sultan whispers and waits with shackles ready to whisk her off to a brand new life; chained up as a white slave in a netherworld.
Usually lumped in with Zap comixs, Big Daddy Roth, and Von Dutch, the one glaring difference is that Mr. Williams is a really great conceptualist and a meticulous drawer. No one captures growing up in Southern California in the late 50′s/ 60′s better: Bored glue sniffing kids adrift on seas of fantasy, chicks purr with come-hither looks like cats, but not domestic cats, these are the kind of cats that would stalk villagers in the old jungle movies. Endless chopped and channeled flaming rat rods roar past abandoned taco stands down the two lane blacktops of early SoCal.
Why don’t we see more of this work? Maybe Rbt. Williams paintings only connect with middle aged guys who grew up in LA? I think the real reason is it’s too specific for the generic mindnumbing sameness that’s so popular now. Maybe artists are too obsessed with seeking universality ’cause it sells all over town and doesn’t get slammed by critics. It’s either inoffensive or predictable. But according to the New York Time’s top art guy, Michael Kimmelman; this is why Hopper is so good. He’s specific and he chronicles a very specific time in a way that no one else came close to. “Art retains meanings specific to a certain time and place.” Says Kimmelman. ” Good art does, anyway ( which accounts for why too much not so good contemporary art, aimed at the global marketplace, looks generic and everywhere alike).”
So attention Whitney curators! His canvasses should be collected like all those Hopper’s you guys own, get as many as possible, at whatever price. Just get them. And like the Hopper’s, lend them to Rome for a fortune someday. But Rbt. Williams, please lose all the merchandizing website stuff , just a little too slick. All the Vans tennis shoes and giclee prints. We all hate giclee prints. They have no value and demean everything else you do. Just say no Rbt. Williams! You are too good for these phony French name Xerox copies.
This painting’s good also, the kid will soon be toast, bezapped by lightning. The details are cool like the Cub Scout shirt. Look on his website for more. www.robtwilliamsstudio.com/