The idea of [New] Beauty as a subjective idea is prominent in art criticism today, whether explicitly so or not. One could assess that any art practice powerful enough to provoke strong emotional responses-whether nostalgia, sadness, anger… is in a sense “beautiful”. But it seems that the notion of Beauty simply means here that a work is successful/interesting/powerful. In fact, Beauty in its classical aesthetic connotation is rarely a criterion in judging contemporary art. Or rather it is an obstacle to the contemporary artistic endeavor, equated with craft, uni-dimensionality, cheesiness, affect…
Coming from an illustration/animation background, I feel like I always have to tame my drive for aesthetic satisfaction. The fear of being too literal perhaps, of being too easy, not challenging/subversive enough is omnipresent. So when I encountered the work of Hernan Bas at the Brooklyn Museum yesterday, I was at first taken aback: the pretty figures, the narrative vein, the romantic landscapes… They instantly reminded me of the Disney “The art of…” books I had stared at and emulated throughout my early teens… and which I later repudiated as best as I could.
Of course, the show also presents a couple “videos”/”installations” to give some serious weight/contemporary credence to the body of work… but they seemed like afterthoughts, based on the same romantic worlds and references but devoid of the apparent joy/instantaneity of the act of painting. His work has been compared to Elizabeth Peyton’s, and their way of handling the paint, as well as their preferred [small] format are most definitely similar. But while Peyton is concerned primarily with portraiture, narration pervades Bas’ canvases, referencing Oscar Wilde, Joris-Karl Huysmans, and a certain romantic/gay mythology. More than any contemporary painter I have seen lately, Bas’ work seems to embraces both narrative and aesthetic pleasure, in an almost illustrative vain.
I was constantly torn between a critique of the dandy-esque, almost melodramatic/naive aspect of the show and the enjoyment (perhaps even jealousy) of the painter’s lack of self-restraint, his complete embrace of a form of beauty that, while certainly not “new” in the history of painting, is bold and rare in contemporary art.