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Stefan Stux Gallery, New York 28 Februar y – 6 April, 2013


Notes on the Analogue: Toward a Post-Digital Painting By Beth E. Wilson

The paintings in Shimon Okshteyn’s most recent series present oversized nudes which slowly emerge in subdued light through dense, Rembrandtesque shadows. The women depicted in these paintings are literally larger than life, monumentally magnified to fill broad expanses of canvas in a series of eccentric poses — some seeming to linger between sleep and wakefulness, others simply existing within their own worlds, entirely removed from contact or concern with the viewer. These five large paintings juxtapose these distanced women with panels of silvery, reflective stainless steel, which provide distorted, but real-time reflections of the viewer underneath or adjacent to the painted image: in one fell swoop, Okshteyn makes manifest the split between the coldly objective, almost reportorial recitation of ‘fact’ in the nudes and the subjective, desiring attention projected on them by the viewer. The enveloping shadows in these paintings are carefully built up by the artist, using many thin washes of graphite and alcohol; up close, the infinitesimal particles of graphite dissolve into an impossibly broad range of values, approximating the soft tones of a fine photographic platinum print. This reference to photography is not accidental, either — for the works themselves began as photographs, selected from hundreds (perhaps thousands) of images shot by the artist in sessions with a number of different models. From this overwhelming mass of digital photos, Okshteyn found that this small handful triggered a reaction in him, or at least a particular area or detail set into motion a subjective (and in fact, primarily erotic) response, despite — and in something of a perverse way, because of — the objective, removed countenance of the figures. These select digital images were then enlarged and printed, very lightly, onto the canvas, a star ting point for Okshteyn’s long, laborintensive process. When Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre first unveiled the products of his new, photographic process (the eponymously-named Daguerréotype) in Januar y 1839, the painter Paul Delaroche supposedly responded by declaring that “From today, painting is dead!” Painting and photography have been (often antagonistically) entangled ever since. Photography was borne of the desire (by some two dozen or more inventors, most of whom were unaware of the others) at the turn of the 19th century to capture and fix the image on the camera obscura — a device that by that point had already been

used for two centuries by artists as a means to perfect their perspective and to generate innovative, illusionistic two-dimensional images of the three dimensional world. The new medium was fundamentally shaped by pictorial conventions already deeply entrenched in ar tistic practice, even as its effects contributed to yet newer ways of seeing/engaging with the visual, thus indirectly shifting painting practice along with it. Walter Benjamin was responding to this changing set of relationships in his famous essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in which he posited the withering of the aura — the sense of a direct access to the presence of the work — as an inevitable result of the rise and mass circulation of images via photography and film. As this new set of relationships played themselves out across the 20th century, a number of photographic concepts and concerns became significant, if not central concerns in the production of contemporary art, elements of which were thematized in movements as varied as Pop Art, Photorealism, and the Pictures Generation. In more recent contemporary practice, the logic of mass reproduction, the index, and the paradoxical relationship between presence and absence (all derived in one way or another from photographic discourse) have provided the key concepts for understanding many of the most prominent artists in recent decades. Whether using photographic sources directly, as seen in the work of Sigmar Polke or Gerhard Richter, or embracing reproductive processes that mimic the technical capacities of photography, as with Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, we have seen the traditional functions of fine art radically undermined, as notions such as a work having a singular, privileged meaning, and its originary ‘aura’ itself have come to seem impossibly oldfashioned and Romantic. Shimon Okshteyn steps squarely into this set of contemporary concerns with these new paintings — the imperfect reflections provided by their mirrored panels “invite the spectator to abandon himself to his associations,” as the artist says, thereby explicitly opening the works to a potentially unending, constantly shifting series of projections, fantasies, and doubts. This radical openness is a response that seems especially appropriate at this moment in the early 21 st centur y, when our latest technical quantum leap has been the transition to ubiquitous digital imagery, with its sublime fantasy of the seamless, unlimited duplication and distribution of

images — a power now in the hands of anyone on the planet in possession of a smart phone and a Facebook account. This is not an argument on behalf of a new technological determinism, but rather a recognition of the net effect of the new “flat” world and ecosystem of images that this technology has produced. In an environment so saturated with the logic of the digital, the significance of the analogue can hardly go unaffected. As Geoffrey Batchen pointed out some time ago, the advent of digital technologies has fundamentally destabilized what once was the seemingly secure conception of photography as an indexical sign of the real, what Rosalind Krauss once characterized as ‘a kind of deposit of the real itself ’1. For Batchen, “digital processes actually return the production of photographic images to the whim of the creative human hand (to the ‘digits’). For that reason, digital images are actually closer in spirit to the creative processes of art than they are to the truth values of documentary.”2

simultaneously distancing oneself from it, and rather than razing the contradictions inherent in this act 3, foregrounding them. At the dawn of photography, Daguerre’s contemporaries were immediately str uck by the sharpness and the apparently infinite detail preserved on the highly polished, silvered plate. (In recent research done in collaboration between the Univer sity of Rochester and George Eastman House, the molecular structure of the daguerreotype has fascinatingly been described as anticipating nanotechnology.4) The polished, silvery panels that are attached alongside and adjacent to Okshteyn’s new monochromes can be seen as a glancing reference to the dazzling surface of these early photographs, even as their subjects hearken back to one of the earliest artistic applications of the medium — the practice of the académie, or nude study, in images intended to record nude (mostly female) models as visual reference for figure painters.

The implications for 21st century painting are profound. Photography, which in many respects eclipsed the cultural position of painting (that original ‘madeby-hand’ medium) has now had its privileged access to the object before the lens revoked. Where once it provided images magically drawn by the ‘pencil of nature’, images that seemed to secure the status of the Real, in the digital era the image is now encoded into bits and bytes, a mathematical system of representation that fundamentally displaces the Real into just another system of signs, so that the (digital) photograph comes to function in the same way as painting had historically been understood — but with a twist. Having passed through the loss of the aura in the era of high modernism, and the subsequent loss of authority/authenticity in its postmodern aftermath, we are left now standing at the edge of a new world of post-digital experience. Shimon Okshteyn’s new paintings carr y us through this conceptual and epistemological thicket, responding intuitively to the radically changed visual environment of the 21 st centur y. Here we find an aesthetic that is deeply informed by and that responds to these shifting modes of representation, a material reworking of the ver y notion of the analogue in a post-digital age. The logic of this new aesthetic is not simply oppositional, and in some ways not even really dialectical — it involves embracing tradition, while

Anonymous photographer Académie, French, mid-19th century, Daguerreotype


Okshteyn literalizes the original conceit of the académie, using (digital) photographs as the sketchy star ting point for his large paintings. The eccentric, ‘unposed’ poses of his models call to mind Degas’s famous series of similarly unconventional bathers. (It may be worth mentioning here that in his own time, Degas was deeply interested in and engaged with photography as well.) In Okshteyn’s case, he brings a finely controlled command of illusionistic painting (drilled into him in the early, rigorous training he received in the USSR) to strategically deploy — and in some ways recuperate — the skilled academic tradition, but in a productive new relationship with what might be thought of as the avantgarde of the 21st century digital age. In one wor k, To Arrive Where We Started, a recumbent nude hovers near the top edge of the painting, while the remainder of the canvas is filled with a virtual ocean of rippling, satiny drapery. The photographic source image was here used for the figure alone, cropped out of its original digital context. The undulating fabric used to fill the remaining negative space, however, was painstakingly invented ‘from whole cloth’ by the artist himself — a plane of hyper-illusionistic representation that bears no direct relationship to any photographic source, but which replicates the almost hallucinogenic level of fine detail that one might find in a daguerreotype, creating an uncanny presence in its own right. While it once might have seemed tautological to describe a painting as ‘analogue’, Okshteyn here fills the notion with new meaning. Even as he embraces one of the most enduring subjects in the history of art (the female nude), the artist transforms his — and ultimately our — relationship to them. At a time when the ontological notions of and about photography have been so radically undercut (as evident in Batchen’s “Ectoplasm” essay, and in the wildly popular recent exhibition “Faking It!” at the Metropolitan), it seems time to re-evaluate the ontological status of painting as well. The contradictory tensions inherent in the new works in this exhibition bridge the gap between the bluntly objective, withdrawn character of the models and the deeply subjective (and erotic) desire thrown on them by the viewer by means of one of the quintessential qualities of painting — the physical touch of the painter himself. Caressing the faint outlines of the digital image imprinted on the blank canvas with wash after wash of dilute graphite, Okshteyn progressively builds the monumental, volumetric forms

of the nudes, bringing them to life like a post-modern Pygmalion. The evidence of this painstaking process can be found at the edges of the canvas, where the artist has allowed uneven washes to bleed off the sides of the painting, and also in certain passages (most often in deep, shadowy sections) where he has built up the layers unevenly, leaving noticeably raised and/or pitted material accretions on the surface. The painter’s manual touch becomes, ironically, the replacement for the lost indexical ‘presence’ of the photographic subject. Embracing the elemental imperfection of the handmade in this way, Okshteyn then extends the inver ted logic of the photographic dimension of the work, by revisiting the fine detail of the figure’s skin with an electric eraser to remove the graphite to create a network of fine, spidery white stretch marks. These marks — like the rippling fabric — are entirely the invention of the ar tist, manifestations of a corporeal history that never was, yet mimicking the incredibly fine, literally super-human detail that caused 19 th century commentators to call the daguerreotype a ‘mirror with a memory.’ In these works, the mode of knowledge once visually secured by the photograph is at once deployed and undercut. These invented stretch marks might even be described as a post-digital index, an invention of the virtual Real. The lyrical, restrained mood of Okshteyn’s large monochrome works finds itself balanced on the opposite end of the visual spectrum by the works installed upstairs, at the rear of the gallery, which indulge in a riot of color and material excess. Verging on the psychedelic, these paintings (which, in addition to paint, involve materials as diverse as mirrors, fake fur, glitter, and neon lights) may at first seem to have little to do with the large, dark and carefully restrained paintings that dominate the main part of the exhibition, but they also find their source material in photographic imagery (although this time found, not made by the artist). Here, instead of delicately refining the source image to emphasize the infinitely fine grain of the details, the matrix of the photograph is expanded, blown out, on the verge of obliterating the image altogether. One striking diptych (MM-41) presents two versions of the same photographic image (a pornographic view of a woman masturbating), broken up into an uneven grid of colorful, oversized dots that dominate the picture plane to the point that it becomes challenging to decipher the underlying image. The rough, handmade matrix of

the high-keyed, chromatic dots manages simultaneously to reference Seurat and Hirst, while also seeming to magnify the grain of silver salts encountered when overenlarging a photographic negative. Once again leveraging the historical tensions between painting and photography, Okshteyn here deploys a completely different set of painterly strategies to achieve a hallucinatory visual effect that delivers a result surprisingly similar to that of the more reserved monochromes. Br idging the two bodies of wor k are a multitude of brightly-colored, hollow, cast rubber heads, haphazardly piled on the floor through out the show. They represent the ar tist himself. Grimacing, openmouthed, in each identical copy he seems to be flinching in anticipation of yet another decapitation (or perhaps a well-placed kick). The technical reproduction of these heads, all obviously cast from the same mold, resonates of course with the photograph’s capacity to endlessly reproduce identical images. But beyond that, they also point toward the new economy of meaning embedded in the critical return to analogue experience that grounds the rest of the exhibition — the post-digital experience in which objectivity is unmoored from modernist, unitary conceptions of space/time, and even from the subjective singularity of the self. We stand at the edge of a new era, in which the shock of the world calls out for a return to the distinctly analogue pleasures of touch, while continuing to sort out the implications of living an everchanging, always already virtual, mediated life, which must be embraced through an attentive, heightened presence of mind.

Beth E. Wilson is an art historian, critic, and curator. She is a Lecturer in art history at the State University of New York (SUNY) New Paltz, where she gives courses in the history of photography, film, and modern/contemporary art. She has curated a number of exhibitions, including “The Material Image: Surface and Substance in Photography” at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art in 2005, and “The Camera Always Lies,” the second Regional Triennial of the Photographic Arts at the Center for Photography at Woodstock in 2008. She was the resident art critic for Chronogram magazine 1999-2008, and has published essays in a wide range of art and photography journals. She contributed to the roundtable discussion in The Art Seminar: Photography Theory, edited by James Elkins (Routledge 2007). She wrote the essay “From Instant to Enveloppe: Reflections on Monet, Photography and Time” which appeared in the exhibition catalogue for Monet in Giverny: Landscapes of Reflection at the Cincinnati Art Museum in 2012.

1. Rosalind Krauss, “The Photographic Conditions of Surrealism,” in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), 1984, p. 112. 2. Geoffrey Batchen, “Ectoplasm,” in Each Wild Idea (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), 2001, p. 134. 3. A concept for which Hegel used the term Aufhebung in his dialectical model. 4. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEZdRU6-bBA for additional information.


PLATES

Before The Sun’s Splendor 2012, graphite, charcoal and digital print on canvas, mirror, 100 x 74 inches (254 x 188 cm)


To Arrive Where We Started 2012, graphite, charcoal and digital print on canvas, mirror, 98 x 222 inches (249 x 564 cm)


Seas Without A Shore 2012, graphite, charcoal and digital print on canvas, mirror, 98 x 161 inches (249 x 409 cm)


Palace Of Wisdom 2012, graphite, charcoal and digital print on canvas, mirror, 98 x 222 inches (249 x 564 cm)


Nothing Stirred Within Their Depths 2012, graphite, charcoal and digital print on canvas, mirror, 111 x 175 inches (282 x 444.5 cm)


To The Deep 2012, graphite, charcoal and digital print on canvas, mirror, 112 x 126 inches (284 x 320 cm)


Self-S (Self-portraits) 2012, silicone rubber, 15 x 12 x12 inches (38 x 30 x 30 cm) each, total dimensions variable


MM-27 2012, mixed media and lights, 79 x 50 inches (201 x 127 cm)

MM-34 2012, mixed media, 36 x 30 inches (91 x 76 cm)


MM-41 2012, mixed media on canvas, 64 x 100 inches (162.5 x 254 cm)


MM-28 2012, mixed media, 64 x 50 inches (162.5 x 127 cm)

MM-21 2012, mixed media, 22 x 22 inches (56 x 56 cm)


MM-39 2012, mixed media on canvas, 60 x 64 inches (152 x 162.5 cm)


MM-42 2012, mixed media with lights, 43 x 35 inches (109 x 89 cm)

MM-44 2012, mixed media, 96 x 50 inches (244 x 127 cm)


MM-24 2012, mixed media on canvas, 64 x 50 inches (162.5 x 127 cm)

MM-33 2012, mixed media and neon lights, 64 x 48 inches (163 x 121 cm)


Shimon Okshteyn Born 1951 Chernovtsy, Ukraine Lives and works in New York and Southampton, New York 1973 BFA Odessa Art Institute, Odessa, Ukraine

Solo Exhibitions 2013 2012 2011 2008 2007

Standing on the Edge: post-digital painting, Stux Gallery, New York, NY Gallery in Venet-Haus, Neu-Ulm, Germany, Review Fischerplatz Gallery, Ulm, Germany, Review Lost Christmas, Triumph Gallery, Moscow, Russia Shimon Okshteyn – Dangerous Pleasures, Stux Gallery, New York, NY Shimon Okshteyn – Retrospective, A Dialogue with Objects, M’ARS Contemporary Art Center, Moscow, Russia Shimon Okshteyn – Retrospective, A Dialogue with Objects, The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia After Lifes: Recent Work by Shimon Okshteyn, Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY New Paintings, Art Moscow International Art Fair, Stux Gallery booth, Moscow, Russia 2006 Shimon Okshteyn, After Lifes: New Paintings and Sculpture, Stefan Stux Gallery, New York, NY 2004 A Stroke is A Stroke is a Stroke, Nohra Haime Gallery, New York City 2003 O.K. Harris, New York, NY 2002 Galerie du Palais Le Touquet Paris Plage, France Fauconner Gallery, Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa 2001-02 Des Les Gallery, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 2000-01 Shimon Okshteyn: Recent Work, O.K. Harris Gallery, New York, NY 2000 Magidson Fine Art, New York, NY 1999 Robert Sandelson, London, England Paper Works, Elaine Benson Gallery, Bridgehampton, NY 1998 Aging Icons, O.K. Harris Gallery, New York, NY Simple Objects, Elaine Benson Gallery, Bridgehampton, NY Nostalgia, Le Centre d’Art Vaas, Vence, France 1997 O.K. Harris Gallery, New York, NY 1996 Duke University Museum of Art, Durham, North Carolina 1995 O.K. Harris Gallery, New York, NY Le Centre d’Art Vaas, Vence, France 1994 O.K. Harris Gallery, New York, NY Central Exhibition Hall Krymskiy Val, Moscow, Russia Cornwell Gallery, Toronto, Canada 1993 Shimon Okshteyn: Recent Works, Margulies Taplin Gallery, Boca Raton, Florida 1992 Duteurtre Gallery, Torino, Italy Alex Edmund Gallery, New York, NY 1991 Duteurtre Gallery, Torino, Italy 1990 George Meyers Gallery, Beverly Hills, CA Mabat Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel 1987 Shimon Okshteyn: Works from 1972-1985, Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA

Selected Group Exhibitions 2012

Nature Morte/Nature Vivante, Lazarev Gallery, St. Petersburg, Russia Summer: Piping Down The Valleys Wild, Stux Gallery, New York, NY 2011 Concerning the Spiritual Tradition in Russian Art: Selections from the Kolodzei Foundation, Chelsea Art Museum, New York, NY 2010 Decadence Now! Visions of Excess, Curated by Otto M. Urban at Galerie Rudolfinum and Museum of Decorative Arts, Prague, Czech Republic 2009 Low Blow, Stux Gallery, New York, NY 2008 Moscow-New York: Parallel Play: Selections from the Kolodzei Art Foundation Collection, Chelsea Art Museum, New York, NY Here’s the Thing: The Single Object Still Life, Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, NY From Head to Toe, Stux Gallery, New York, NY 2007-09 Leaded: The Materiality and Metamorphosis of Graphite, Traveling exhibition: University of Richmond Museums, Richmond, VA; Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY; Palmer Museum of Art, University Park, PA; Salina Art Center, Salina, KS 2007 Extra-Ordinary: The Everyday Object in American Art: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art, Frist Center for Visual Arts, Nashville, TN 2006 Six Degrees of Separation, Stux Gallery, NY 2005 Extra-Ordinary: The Everyday Object in American Art: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY State Museum, Albany, NY

2003

Brooklyn on 57th Street, Nohra Haime Gallery, New York, NY Approaching Objects: Works from the Whitney Museum Permanent Collection, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY 2001 Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY O.K. Harris Gallery, New York, NY 2000 Danford Museum of Art, Framingham, MA Robert Sandelson, London, England Elaine Benson Gallery, Bridgehampton, NY 1999 Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, NY 1998 Forum Gallery, New York, NY 1997 Biennale Internationale Dell’Arte Contemporanea, Florence, Italy 1996 Forum Gallery, New York City 1995 Chase Manhattan Bank, New York, NY Gallerie La Point, Monte Carlo, Monaco 1994 Forum Gallery, New York, NY Le Centre d’Art Vaas, Vence, France Leonard Hutton Gallery, New York, NY 1993 Monumental Propaganda, New York – Moscow 1992 Old Voices. New Faces: Soviet Jewish Artists from the 1920’s-1990’s, National Jewish Museum, Washington, D.C. Roy Miles Gallery, London, England CocArt, Bianca Pilat Gallery, Milan, Italy 1991 Mabat Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel Siegert Gallery, Basel, Switzerland 1990 Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, USSR 1988 Jane Art Gallery, Seoul, South Korea 1988-89 Transist: Russian Artists between the East and West, Fine Arts Museum of Long Island, Hempstead, NY, The State Russian Museum, Leningrad, USSR

Selected Publications Decadence Now! Visions of Excess, Otto M. Urban, 2010 Academia, Okshteyn’s “Dangerous Pleasures”, Dominque Nahasm Moscow 2009 Shimon Okshteyn: Stefan Stux Gallery, Francine Koslow Miller, ArtForum, 2008 Let’s Go Pop: Extra-Ordinary: The Everyday Object in American Art, David Brickman, 2005 Art Attack, James Gardner, New York Post, March 19, 2005 Shimon Okshteyn, Tova Beck-Friedman, M The New York Art World, 2004 Approaching Objects, NYArts, December, 2003 Shimon Okshteyn, Ken Johnson, The New York Times, March, 2003 Shimon Okshteyn, Barbara MacAdam, ARTnews, November, 2003 Shimon Okshteyn, Gerard Haggerty, ARTnews, Summer, 1999

Selected Public Collections Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Russian Art, Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia Duke University Museum of Art, Durham, North Carolina The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey Pratt Gallery, Amherst, Massachusetts

Selected catalogues 2013 2008 2007 2006 2001 1998 1995 1993

Standing on the Edge: post-digital painting, Text by Beth Wilson, Stux Gallery, New York Shimon Okshteyn – New Works, Text by Dominique Nahas, Stux Gallery, New York Shimon Okshteyn – Retrospective, A Dialogue with Objects, The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia Shimon Okshteyn: After Lifes: New Paintings and Sculpture, Text by David Hunt, Stux Gallery, New York Shimon Okshteyn: Recent Work, O.K. Harris Gallery, New York Shimon Okshteyn: Nostalgia, New Work 1996-1998, Le Centre D’Art Vaas, Vance, France The Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union, 1956-1986, Thames and Hudson in association with Jane Voorhees Art Museum, New Brunswick, New Jersey Shimon Okshteyn: Recent Work, O.K. Harris Gallery, New York Shimon Okshteyn: Recent Works, Margulies Taplin Gallery, Bay Harbor Island, FL


Shimon Okshteyn_Catalog