Lisa Yuskavage


Lisa Yuskavage, Reclining Nude, 2009, oil on canvas, 72x51 inches

Lisa Yuskavage, Reclining Nude, 2009, oil on canvas, 72x51 inches

When I read that Lisa Yuskavage was having a new show at Zwirner (February 19, 2009 to March 28, 2009) I looked forward to seeing what she was up to. I liked Lisa's work. Several years ago I'd made a trip down to Philadelphia specifically to see her first solo museum show there. But since then I hadn't seen any of her paintings in person, or anyway not many. So I thought I'd enjoy her latest show.

I don't know if, over the past few years or so, I've become more demanding or Lisa's gotten worse. But, damn, these are some crappy-ass paintings. They look like color studies for some triple-X animated feature, like pre-production work for some awful Ralph Bakshi abortion. Each one is slipshod from start to finish, as if she threw them together at the last minute. And since Zwirner's gallery runs the length of the block, I found it telling that most of the space was closed -- did she not have enough work? What's she been doing since her last show?

Lisa still has a nice line at times, some curvy forms which, in another context, might pass for what's often called "sensuous". But here it's put in service of content so puerile, technique so desultory, and composition so lifeless, it's completely wasted. The series of paintings here is almost autistic in its obsessive repetition, except no autistic person would ever browbeat anyone so mercilessly with their desire to be accepted. This collection of paintings nearly whimpers in its asking to be loved for the tricks that worked so well in the past; overall it's not so much shocking or outrageous as it is pitiable and sad.

Lisa Yuskavage, Pied, 2008, oil on canvas, 11.75x9 inches

Lisa Yuskavage, Pied, 2008, oil on canvas, 11.75x9 inches

I get the same whiff from Lisa's paintings as I do from John Currin's, namely that of a painter elevated to stardom before they had any idea what they were doing. Now she's groping around trying to figure out what to do next -- giant babies in harsh locales? Fat vulvas in flooded rooms? Twats as landscapes? -- without having the slightest idea what got her where she is. Particularly disingenuous are the few "pie face" paintings here: Is it whipped cream? Is this bukkake? Maybe it's supposed to be an attempt to stir up controversy, but the only contoversy I see is why such sophomoric content and hamfisted technique is left out where people can see it.


What did you like about her work several years ago?

I can't find anything I wrote at the time, so I'm going to have to go by memory. I thought she had pretty good technique, for one thing. Her earlier work, if I remember it correctly, was more proficient. Not perfect by any means, but she was working in that Old Master style with transparent shadows built up in glazes and thick, opaque highlights. She had what I thought was a good sense of color and form, and her composition was okay.Also, I liked naked women. She painted nubile young women with an ironic eye, where she exaggerated the superficial sexiness of her subjects, treating them as objects of sexual desire. She was probably doing this satirically, although it was hard to tell who exactly she was satirizing. Could've been women who try to please men, could've been male-dominated society relegating women to this subservient position.I was willing, at the time, to ignore the negative connotations of her work. And I didn't mind irony as much as I do now. So certainly those things have changed about me.I think also I've become a lot less easy to impress with technique. The more I've seen the more I've seen the very best; and further, I've seen what it takes to be really technically good. Both have shortened my patience for the mediocre technician. And at her best -- from my memory -- Lisa was never that great.These are most assuredly not her best. When I used the word slapdash I meant it pretty much literally; I remember her paintings as looking as if she'd spent some time on them. (I recall one passage where she'd glazed so heavily that the shadow portion of the painting was significantly shinier and thicker than the rest -- not a good thing, exactly, but evidence of effort, anyway.) These paintings look as if she slapped paint on them and dashed out to do something more fun, like, I don't know, count the artists being dropped from their galleries while she pursues her sinecure.

I think the trouble is she's trying to loosen up and be 'painterly' - maybe old masterly or mistressly - but it just grates against the content. She's stuck with that same 90s Yale Grad aesthetic of cheesy illustration maxed out (see Currin) and that really doesn't cut her much slack for 'touch' - and she's really not prepared to sacrifice any more of her content for more impressive or insistent facture.All dressed up with nowhere to go.Although, I found the fantasy landscape aspect to the show sort of interesting. The last couple of years there's been a definite buzz about Frank Frazzetta, Boris Vallejo and similar around the blogs (Zipthwung, Jacques de Beaufort) and it's almost as if Lisa's been listening in...

I don't read Jacques or Zip regularly so I guess I missed the illustration buzz. Lisa's backdrops did sort of remind me of incompetent versions of Vallejo backdrops. Vallejo is such a talented illustrator, though, that he can fire off those wonderful fantasy settings in his sleep; it's clear Lisa can only labor mightily to get halfway there.Incidentally, I've seen original Vallejo paintings (I was good friends with his son for a couple of years) and they are no direction for fine art. They're clearly illustration, not art: They reproduce beautifully but in real life they're flat (like flat soda).I sure hope these are not Lisa's attempt at being painterly; she was far more painterly (if memory serves) a decade ago. These are more sketchy, more like studies.

Well the smaller ones clearly were studies. Embarrassingly, on the larger ones, the sketchiness just seemed deliberate and misguided. It's like starting out to be Frazzetta and then trying to be Bonnard midway thru. It just looks weak or indecisive.I agree the older work was stronger. It's always interesting to see an artist try and move on, but for the moment my verdict is 'not quite there' yet.

This image of Pied definitely looks like a study -- the postcard for the show, and the one I wanted to put up here, is the full painting for which this probably was the study. It's called PieFace (no space visible between the words on the postcard, can't tell if that's intentional) and is definitely more polished than Pied, although in a way that makes it worse, because it's so clearly pandering to the "Wow this will surely shock the bourgeois" aesthetic. But her facility for well-defined forms and the weight of the figure -- especially the breasts between the arms -- is clearer.One has to wonder why a gallery show would contain studies. Are we pretending these are real paintings? Was there not enough actual work to make the walls look full? It looks bad, whatever the reason.

I thought the landscape paintings were a bit better than the nudes. it in reproduction, though, doesn't look so hot. I remember this one in particular sticking out as slightly more interesting.

To consider the ways in which one turd might be slightly more interesting than another, please see Andres Serrano's last show.

So many starlets, so little substance...but then again, what else is new in the land of smoke and mirrors?

Frank Frazzetta, Boris Vallejo can draw Lisa and Currin into the ground any day of the week. They were not trying to be 'fine artist' however.I always disliked Yuskavage's work.She's a phony and now I guess some see her for what she really is, an awful painter.

You're absolutely right about Frazetta and Vallejo, Jeff. They can draw almost anyone into the ground. To find real competition for them you have to go back into art history, to guys like Ingres.

So you don't think she's a phony?The work also reminds me of old Playboy cartoons without the humor.

I don't know if she's a phony. I'm really bad at detecting dishonesty in other people. To me, being phony implies intent to be fake; your definition may vary.I didn't meet her, either. The artists I've met all seem very sincere no matter how dreadful their work, but then I've met few artists from the upper echelons. Still, the impression I've gotten over the past three years of close contact with art world people is that the artists are all equally serious and equally dedicated, but they vary widely in ability. They're all trying just as hard as each other, but some of them are really terrible and some of them are really good.I have yet to meet any artist who's flippant, obnoxious, overweening, or prideful. They've all struck me as nose-to-the-grindstone types (some more than others, of course). So I'm tempted to imagine artists (really successful ones, anyway) as innocently caught up in a machine beyond their understanding: Snatched up too early into the jaws of Moloch, confused and lost.Then again, sometimes I get mad at their results anyway. I've implied, for example, that Marlene Dumas should see how bad she is and stop inflicting herself on the rest of us. But then, if MoMA knocked, could you resist? I personally am a total pushover for flattery. One nice word and I'm on my back, legs spread.

That's funny and dog like.What I mean by phony is aimed at the work and not the personality.Her work is not honest, it's gimmicky. I feel that everything she does is done for the image of what she thinks her gallery wants.Of course this is my opinion and does not matter much in the scheme of things and I could completly wrong. She might believe in the silliness of the work. However it looks like bad illustration to me, so I'm back to divisive gimmicky work. Marlene Dumas is one piece of work, ever seen her husband. I once saw this video short on her and is this man screwed up. I don't know who is worse her or him. I think they are the saddest painters in the world.Only he does not paint anymore, to depressed.He is so depressed and he lives on a barge in a canal. She is is awful I give you that.

Her work certainly seems phony to me. Exactly as you said: She's painting what she thinks her gallery (and presumably her customers) want. Whether she knows that or not, I don't know. She may not realize she's being influenced that way. Hard to say.I don't know anything about Dumas' husband. If he's truly clinically depressed, then I feel very bad for him, because that sucks.

Wow.I just read this entire thread.I don't know a single person mentioned except for Lisa.So many worlds out there.I saw one of Lisa's shows a few years ago. I know not where or exactly whenI didn't even notice / remember the name of the artist. It was just another show I wandered through. I thought that a guy painted them, though now that I find out it is a woman, it makes perfect sense to me.I just remember being envious, as I am always envious of everyone."Yeah. Wow. That must be cool to be that person."I mean, that person was getting over (by the look of the gallery) doing tittilating sexy imagery stuff.Kind of tickled my dick or something."Yeah man. That's cool. I mean, come on, if you have to have a nitch, there are worse nitches than titilating sexy nitches."(I was already operating in erotic cartoon mode at this time myself, which probably greased the tracks of my thought.)I do remember thinking they reminded me of some kind of compelation of Playboy images of my youth, by maybe more than one artist.I didn't notice all the painterly or lack of things that Chris commented on.Put me in a room of nubile sexy bald pussy girls, and I guess I get distracted.Tim

Well, the reclining nude that you post is a good painting, the only misstep perhaps being the inexpiclable baby in the background. But, come on. That thing is a masterpiece of light and composition, the cool blues of the fleshtones contrasting nicely with the hot yellows of the socks. And the decision to paint those socks is a good one.

[smack smack]Hang on, my sarcasm meter appears to have overloaded.[smack smack]

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