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Structure and Flow: Joanne Greenbaum at SMFA


Things We Said Today, Joanne Greenbaum’s show of paintings, drawings and sculptures flirts with a see-saw fulcrum point where a work — whether painting or clay — just comes together, fresh with agency.

The exhibition, curated by director and chief curator Dina Deitsch, spans the Anderson Auditorium and the Grossman Gallery at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts. The abstract paintings in the Anderson Auditorium, all untitled, are ultimately nothing if not self-portraits, of a kind. They reveal Greenbaum’s compulsive drawing practice, writ large on the heroic scale of oversized canvases. It’s a disarming pairing: the extroverted bravura of scale combined with a habitual mark making process akin to the inward, meandering doodles from the margins of school notebooks.

Joanne Greenbaum
Untitled, 2017
Acrylic and oil on canvas
72 x 70 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Rachel Uffner Gallery

These colorful, automatic-drawing marks are made with commonly found art store materials. Frission occurs where magic marker, oil pastel, Flashe, acrylic, and oil paint meet and mix. Some areas are built up, one layer of material over another, while elsewhere patches of white canvas are left completely bare to show the tooth of the canvas. In the built-up areas, overlapping dabs and gashes of paint seem strategically employed to break up form and density. Here and there, discrete flourishes of wet-into-wet mixed color butt up against webs of a single hue that traverse and dominate the dimensions of each canvas. In one painting, it’s a net of cobalt blue and in another a radial pattern of metallic copper. Vertical drips add a hint of a stabilizing grid structure in other works.

Joanne Greenbaum
Untitled, 2016
Oil, ink, acrylic, flashe and graphite on canvas
80 x 82 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Rachel Uffner Gallery

The paintings reveal someone who has spent a lifetime looking at art; Cubist structure, Impressionist aeration, and Modernist formalism seem ingrained yet simultaneously defied. Greenbaum, who is in her sixties, unlearns or dismisses conventions, such as the traditional hierarchy of materials, where paint is typically privileged, or, literally and figuratively on top. With a single wonky layer of oil pastel placed over a broad, bold scaffolding of painted marks, Greenbaum advances painting as a whole.

Joanne Greenbaum
Untitled, 2017
Marker on porcelain
15 x 9 x 8 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Rachel Uffner Gallery

In the Grossman Gallery, porcelain works, small-scale paintings, and handmade notebooks are displayed in a way that quietly echoes the internal logic of Greenbaum’s work. A large rectangular plinth placed in the center of the intimate gallery anchors both the room itself as well as the free-wheelinghand-painted porcelain sculptures atop it. Like paint, clay has a curing or drying process, and in both mediums, Greenbaum is interested in retaining traces of that unruly first state within the finished product. With clay slabs, she makes organic, tiered structures. They are like maquettes of the roaming central forms within many of the paintings. The display is punctuated with sculptures of a single saturated color, while others have myriad touches of glaze, ballpoint pen, and acrylic paint. With the sculptures teetering near the outer edges of the plinth surrounded by Greenbaum’s paintings and notebooks, the viewer becomes participant, feeling a need to tiptoe around, so as not to upset the balance so precariously – and thrillingly — achieved.

Things We Said Today is on view until April 7, 2018.


About Author

Liza Bingham is a painter with a studio in Waltham, MA.

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