On Friday, Nov. 10, the most comprehensive exhibition to date of the work of artist and CalArts alumna Laura Owens (Art MFA 94) opens at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Running through Feb. 4, the midcareer retrospective will feature close to 60 paintings from the Los Angeles-based artist, covering her work from the mid-1990s until today.
Graduating from CalArts and emerging on the Los Angeles art scene in the 1990s, Owens' early work challenged more serious conceptions of abstract painting by incorporating common craft materials, doodles and goofy personal allusions. Her more recent work – which marks a dramatic transformation – includes large-scale paintings featuring the use of silkscreen, computers, digital printing and new materials.
Owens has a longstanding relationship with the Whitney, having presented in two Biennials and figuring significantly in the museum’s permanent collection.
As Peter Schjeldahl wrote in a recent profile of Owens in The New Yorker:
Owens said to me, “I really believe in art, that art can do things that other things don’t do. It’s important to try, and fail, and to believe that things can do things.” She is a genius of revelations, along the lines of that premise. She revealed twenty years ago, and has kept doing it, that what seemed a terminally exhausted state of painting could be a garden of unlimited, freshening delights. Now she confronts a larger imbroglio. Does art still, if it ever did, matter beyond the commercial and institutional bubbles of the art world? Can aesthetic pleasures have ethical payoffs, imparting lessons for life? Or does life overrule rationales for art altogether? These are not abstract questions for Owens. They spur her to propositions that, availing or not, solicit dead-honest responses of eye, mind, and heart.
—by Katie Dunham