Lehmann Maupin presents a solo exhibition of new work by David Salle; the American artist who has long been regarded as a leader in the return to figurative painting in the 1980s. During that period, Salle helped define and develop the postmodern sensibility that sought to deconstruct any hierarchy between image and meaning, and allowed for a fluid dialogue between all of the arts—performance, literature, music, visual art, and media. By combining figuration with a varied pictorial language, Salle creates complex visual narratives that draw inspiration from art history, advertising, design, and American culture. Salle’s most recent body of work exemplifies his continued commitment to exploring the thematic and formal possibilities of painting, and the development of his rich visual language.
In 1993, Salle created his Early Product Paintings, a series in which flatly painted backgrounds of collaged advertisements served as backdrops for the artist’s performative and improvised interventions. His most recent work revisits the 1993 series and further highlights, even more intensely, Salle’s ability to create complex images composed of varied gestures, colors, and forms that offer multiple readings. By layering silkscreened or transfer-print photographs of a hooded figure, images of 1950s and 60s Americana, free-hand charcoal drawing, as well as abstract marks, the artist builds compositions that challenge our assumptions of how to experience and understand a painting. Though he incorporates recognizable images—a snowman, a waffle, a camera lens, a car—these references are not intended as a specific commentary on a time period or object. Rather, each work is an investigation of the myriad possibilities of painting itself, and how the images and marks join together to create a poetic field that explores the “what and how” of a composition. Each image, as well as each mark, adds a certain flavor, scent, or tone that contributes to the overall harmony of the work. The paintings offer, first and foremost, a rich visual experience—they are not intended to be simply “understood” in a literal manner. For Salle, a painting is never one thing, but the sum of the elements and styles he forcibly brings together to create an image .
Salle’s oeuvre grows out of a long-standing involvement with performance and film. He often references cinematic devices—close-ups, zooms, montage, splicing—that ultimately become a visible part of his each painting’s narrative. In two of the pieces included in this exhibition, Buick-Town and Smoke Kools, Salle incorporates a photo-transfer print of a hooded figure. That figure is Massimo Audiello (currently a gallerist in Mexico City), who came to New York from Italy in the 1980s to be an actor/performer. Salle took the photos during a series of spontaneous performances that Audiello staged in his studio in the early 1990s, using paintings-in-progress as his backdrops. The repeated inclusion of this image 25 years after it’s original creation, reiterates the importance of cinema and photography, and more significantly, highlights the central role performance—improvisation, character, play, and absurdity—has played in the development of Salle’s art. The artist considers the act of painting itself as inherently performative; it is something someone does, physically, in a specific moment in time and as such is both un-predictable and un-repeatable.
David Salle (b. 1952, Norman, Oklahoma; lives and works in New York) received both a B.F.A. and an M.F.A. from the California Institute of Arts, Los Angeles (1973 and 1975). Solo exhibitions of his work have been organized at Dallas Contemporary, Dallas (2015); The Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago (2014); Metropolitan Opera House, New York (2012); Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, Mexico (2000); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1999); Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung, Ludwig, Vienna (2000); Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Castello di Rivoli, Turin, Italy (2000); Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain (1999). In 1987, at age 34, Salle was the youngest artist ever to be honored with a mid-career survey exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.