Roxy Paine

Second Nature

20 Sep 2003 - 11 Jan 2004
work in collection

The young American artist Roxy Paine (New York, 1966) has shown his work in Europe only on a limited scale until now. Aside from a small solo presentation at Lunds Konsthall in Sweden, this has mainly consisted of several group exhibitions, among them the fifth Biennial of Lyon (2000) and Give and Take at the Serpentine Gallery in London (2001). The exhibition Second Nature is Paine’s first large museum presentation. Second Nature has been organized in collaboration with the Rose Art Museum of Brandeis University in Boston and the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. 

A striking aspect of the body of work produced by Roxy Paine in recent years is its unusual dichotomy: between, on the one hand, realistic sculptures with botanical forms and, on the other, installations involving fully automated machines that produce sculptures and paintings. Second Nature includes major and spectacular examples of both types of work.

The mushrooms, poppies, grasses and other plants that we encounter in the realistic work of Roxy Paine are the result of intensive manual labor. Made from synthetic materials and painted by hand, these ‘growths’ look entirely natural and could be part of a diorama or botanical inventory. Crop (1997-98) comprises a field of lifelike poppies whose blossoms and bolls dance atop tall stems. He has also produced Poison Ivy Field (1997) and the work Amanita Virosa Wall (2001), a collection of mushrooms that spring out of the wall. It is no coincidence that the real versions of all of this vegetation have either poisonous or hallucenogenic properties. Paine was confronted with experimenation with drugs at an early age. In his art he seems to have sublimated this, however, by transforming, with concentrated precision, mind-expanding plants and mushrooms into an endless range of replicas. The illusion no longer lies with the use of these varieties, but with the fact that all of them here are fake. Paine opts not only for hallucenogenic types of plants; Bad Lawn (1998) is a meticulously rendered patch of poorly maintained grass abundant with all sorts of weeds. Not only does this work seem to be a precise definition of ‘undesirable’ plants; it is also an attack on the common conception of a proper lawn. At the same time, there arises the question as to whether something as banal as this can be the subject for a work of art.

This reversal of expectations also plays an important role with the other group of works, the machines that automatically produce works of art. Even in the current industrial age, the idea that machines are able to manufacture ‘authentic’ works of art, in which the unique ‘handwriting’ of the artist is replaced by traces of a mechanical action, continues to be unusual. Paine’s machines make one suspect that he radically rejects authenticity and originality as criteria for a work of art. Particularly in the realm of painting, it is thought that these concepts have lost validity. Even so, this interpretation of Paine’s work is too limited. It is within the very traditions of painting that his work can be regarded as an distinct and personal stance. With Roxy Paine ‘mechanical reproducibility’ – considered by many to be the beginning of the end of art – leads not to uniform repetition but to a varied production of individual, unique works of art. At the same time the machines themselves, with their computerized programming and ‘production lines’, can be seen as independent artworks made by the artist’s own hands.

In 1996 Paine constructed his first Paint Dipper which automatically submerges the stretched painter’s linen into a bath of paint. The PMU (Painting Manufacture Unit) (1999-2000) is more complex and works by way of a computer-operated paint pump. The white paint is pumped, layer by layer in brief sessions, onto a hung canvas, after which it dries into a whimsical monochrome landscape of fluid forms. In this machine-method of production, all of the results are nonetheless different from each other. This is also the case with other machines devised by Paine.  Drawing Machine (2001, not included in the exhibition) makes, according to the computer program, compositions of words or abstract forms. And SCUMAC (sculpture-making machine, 2001) produces sculpture by an assembly-line technique. The SCUMAC works consist of polyethylene that is ‘pumped out’ in a fluid state. Each sculpture is made up of multiple layers that have congealed into amorphous forms. These forms cannot be predetermined; ultimately no two sculptures are alike. The color of the sculptures differs with each location at which they are made. During the exhibition, PMU and SCUMAC will be put into operation several times each day. The production process gives rise to a fascinating spectacle.

With Model Painting (1996) and Blob Case No. 8 (1998) Roxy Paine places all sorts of amorphous forms into a make-believe order and system, thus parodying the vehement gesture of abstract expressionist painting by reducing the work to a do-it-yourself format. Anyone can paint, as it were, by simply following the instructions. Abstract No. 6 (2000) seems to be a source of rising paint: the painting as a gigantic, expanding growth.

With respect to the collection of De Pont, Roxy Paine’s way of working relates to the systematics by which artists such as Gerhard Richter and Bernard Frize produce their work. They, too, approach painting on the basis of a clear concept and methodical execution. It is not the handwriting but the action which gives rise to the most surprising results. Rather than signifying the end of painting, Paine’s machines provide it, in fact, with new perspectives.

The catalogue Second Nature is available for € 25.