New Museum's retrospective of Elizabeth Peyton, a first for the artist, is worth traveling through slush and rain to see. An artist with a wonderful color sense and true intimacy (see the sleeping portraits of “Tony”) in her work. She's also the kind of artist that would have made the boys club “artistes” back at RISD shudder.
Mixing both the “lowly” subject of pop culture ( subject range from Kurt Cobain to sometimes even interpreting film stills from movies like Age of Innocence) and the out of style traditional portraiture, Peyton dared to do what no one else was at the time and ends up a unique figure in painting for standing alone in all her unabashedly girlie, classical, and crushy way.
The faces are always the focus of her paintings, everything else – aside from a few textile patterns – become vague strokes of color. The almost realism detail to faces can be seen in the painting Liz and Diane especially. Whether the portraits are of friends, famous faces from the past (Napoleon, Delacroix and Frida Kahlo to name a few) or the present (Jarvis Cocker, Liam Gallagher and Sid Vicious) they are recognizable but similar. Under her brush all her subjects become part of the same angelic handsome and skinny hip family.
I was surprised by how little paint she often uses, particularly with oils as if many were just quick unplanned sketches. Silver Bosie is one of the most beautiful pieces in the collection and parts are left completely unpainted.
In a short time Peyton has accumulated a large body of work, all very consistent but never repetitive. Each one still draws you in on it's own, even after gazing at two floors of them.
As for the other floor of work by Mary Heilmann, eh, I say skip it. There were only two pieces I liked: Pink Jackie P and the duo The Third Man and Neo Noir, but otherwise it reminded me of Freshman foundation from college. Spend your time in the bright, cheery and browse happy book store instead where Peyton buttons can be got for two dollars before they sell out.
After Jan. 11, the show will go on to The Walker Museum in Minneapolis (look for it Devon). If you live in New York, make sure to stop by before then!