I had two striking realizations: one, that even if I produced the worst paintings possible, they would not be good enough; and two, that idealism is unavoidable.
A maverick of twentieth-century American art, Neil Jenney pursues realism as a style and a philosophy. He strives to return to the classical ideal of truth and to integrate form and content, while eschewing what he has described as the decorative, expressive qualities of modern abstraction. Adopting the binary of “bad” and “good” painting, Jenney challenges notions of taste, subject matter, and the accurate representation of life and culture.
In his first two years at the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, from 1964 to 1966, Jenney created hard-edge paintings and Minimalist sculptures, showing an advanced understanding of contemporary art. In the winter of 1966 he moved to New York and began his “funk style” sculptures (1966–69), including the Linear Series, groups of aluminum bars displayed on the wall or floor; the Volumetric Series, irregularly shaped masses of fabric formed over chicken wire; and a series that has been referred to as the Environmental, Multimedia, or Maximal works, still-life arrangements featuring found materials. However, as critics were beginning to identify Jenney as an “Earth” or “Process” artist, he was growing dissatisfied with his sculptural practice and began to paint again.
Jenney began to make the Bad Paintings in 1969, referring to them as such after Marcia Tucker’s exhibition Bad Painting at the New Museum in 1978. These purposefully sketchy, gestural works poked at preconceptions of taste and connoisseurship, and, according to Jenney, were “good concepts painted badly.” The Bad Paintings often bear dichotomous titles, such as Moms and Kids (1969), Girl and Vase (1969), and Dog and Food (1969–70), and often feature large areas of canvas filled in with green, blue, or brown acrylic paint, thinly applied in untidy strokes. In the Bad Paintings, Jenney sought to indicate narrative truth by depicting elementary relationships between people and things.
His interest in the many permutations of realism, however, led him to pursue this same goal through an opposite approach: the Good Paintings. Ongoing since the 1970s, the Good Paintings are hyperdetailed, heavily stylized studies of the North American landscape, each surface flawlessly rendered. More recently, in the New Good Paintings, Jenney has expanded his scope to include other geographic locations, creating vistas that are as disorienting as they are clear. Glimpses of rivers, tree trunks, rocks, and sand are surrounded by heavy black wooden frames, which, by recalling decorative molding, allude to Leon Battista Alberti’s metaphor of the painting as a window, which has guided artists’ understanding of perspective since the Renaissance. Jenney’s frames, which he added to the Bad Paintings after introducing them in the Good Paintings, serve as theatrical foregrounds, while the works’ titles, stenciled on in a capitalized serif font, help place the viewer by referring to specific locations. Around 2012 Jenney began to purchase and commission copies of Picasso paintings made by a street artist near the Port Authority, subsequently touching up the color and adding frames to them. In 2015 he exhibited a selection of these Improved Picasso paintings (2012–) at his West Broadway Gallery, which he opened with the stated mission to “exhibit Realism and Abstraction of the Idealized sort.”
Jenney’s refined use of paint and color, as well as the precise linework of his drawings, recalls that of the Hudson River School painters, who presented the virgin landscape as a spiritual, utopic realm. Similarly, Jenney’s work addresses themes of universal significance, such as the cultural role of the artist, climate change, and notions of societal progress.
Extended through February 3, 2018
Drawings & Paintings
October 27, 2017–February 3, 2018
Park & 75, New York
Extended through September 17, 2016
A group exhibition of text-based works
June 1–September 17, 2016
The Show is Over
October 15–November 30, 2013
Britannia Street, London
Works of the Jenney Archive
March 7–April 27, 2013
980 Madison Avenue, New York
November 6–December 18, 2004
980 Madison Avenue, New York
August 9–September 6, 2002
The Bad Years 1969-70
March 8–April 13, 2001
980 Madison Avenue, New York
Fairs, Events & Announcements
Seattle Art Fair
August 2–5, 2018, booth A09
CenturyLink Field Event Center, Seattle
Gagosian is pleased to present Out of This World: Artists Explore Space, a booth curated by Larry Gagosian for the 2018 Seattle Art Fair. The presentation gathers works that reveal artistic and scientific explorations of the cosmos. Featured artists include Richard Avedon, Andisheh Avini, Chris Burden, Alexander Calder, Vija Celmins, Ellen Gallagher, Andreas Gursky, Damien Hirst, Neil Jenney, Mike Kelley, Yves Klein, Vera Lutter, Brice Marden, Marc Newson, Nam June Paik, Thomas Ruff, Ed Ruscha, Tom Sachs, Taryn Simon, Yves Tanguy, and Andy Warhol, among others.
Ed Ruscha, Even Though He’s Light Years Away, His Heart Belongs to Me, 1963 © Ed Ruscha
June 14–17, 2018
Messe Basel, booth B11
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Art Basel 2018, presenting works by modern and contemporary artists including Georg Baselitz, John Chamberlain, Dan Colen, John Currin, Willem de Kooning, Urs Fischer, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellen Gallagher, Jennifer Guidi, Andreas Gursky, Neil Jenney, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Henri Matisse, Takashi Murakami, Giuseppe Penone, Pablo Picasso, Richard Prince, Sterling Ruby, Richard Serra, Rudolf Stingel, Mark Tansey, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Mary Weatherford, and Tom Wesselmann. To receive a PDF with detailed information on the works, please contact the gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org. To preview our booth go to www.artsy.net. To purchase tickets to attend the fair go to www.artbasel.com.
Georg Baselitz, Frau am Strand (Woman on the Beach), 1981 © Georg Baselitz 2018
Art Basel Miami Beach
December 7–10, 2017, booth D7
Miami Beach Convention Center
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Art Basel Miami Beach 2017, presenting a selection of works by modern and contemporary artists including:
Richard Artschwager, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cecily Brown, Glenn Brown, John Chamberlain, Dan Colen, John Currin, Urs Fischer, Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, Katharina Grosse, Mark Grotjahn, Andreas Gursky, Damien Hirst, Alex Israel, Neil Jenney, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, Harmony Korine, Roy Lichtenstein, Brice Marden, Adam McEwen, Takashi Murakami, Albert Oehlen, Pablo Picasso, Richard Prince, Sterling Ruby, Ed Ruscha, Jenny Saville, Frank Stella, Rudolf Stingel, Mark Tansey, Robert Therrien, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Mary Weatherford, Tom Wesselmann, and Christopher Wool.
Tickets are available at www.artbasel.com.
Tom Wesselmann, Smoker #11, 1973 © The Estate of Tom Wesselmann/Licensed by VAGA, New York