In the arms race of Megagallery vs Megagallery this fall, Raymond Pettibon’s “To Wit” at David Zwirner deserves more ire than the critics whipping boy Matthew Day Jackson show at Hauser and Wirth. Where as Jackson may have gone big to match the space, his work is large and looks like it should exist large. This is not to say I like Jackson’s show, but its ambition fits its environs even if it fails. Pettibon fills space at Zwirner not to see what he can accomplish but to see what he can install. Art Installations are not always installation art. Pettibon is not pretentious (like everyone assumes Jackson is) because he is (or rather was) Punk rock. He has incredible skills as a draftsman and very possibly has refined his graphic style into it’s own subgenre of well-considered cartooning.
The thing is, I like Pettibon. I have seen posters, album covers, drawings and prints that I have enjoyed. There is work here that I enjoy and respect. But the all over, fill-it-out, scrawl-it-over and clutter-it-up idea is not helpful. The lack of focus is amplified by the inclusion of extensive text drawn on the wall and the patchwork quilt of tacked up drawings. The drawings here are large, but they cannot compete with Zwirner’s hanger. The effect ends up feeling like a graphic novel storyboard layout gone awry. You can only see a forest, but can’t make out the trees. When you look close, the sea, baseball players, male nudes all rub up against one another and none can make themselves known.
This will remain the problem of small art in large galleries. Even if Pettibon wanted this show to be exactly what it is, I think it fails because of what it had to be. One critic read it as diaristic; I simply can’t read it. They say a goldfish will grow to the size of its bowl. Lets hope that artists don’t always try and do the same.
I was going to include Cheim and Read’s Barry McGee show in this critique but after I considered it further I realized that show was full and busy but was not comparable to the jumbled mess of Pettibon. I am still looking forward to seeing the Chris Burden and Mike Kelley shows, which had the potential to be all over, cluttered messes but seem to have steered clear of that trap.
A few words about William Kentridge at Marian Goodman. This show is a favorite of mine. It is jammed with material, sometimes but rarely to its detriment. The exhibition shows you inside the busy mind of Kentridge and the animation Second-Hand Reading, 2013 is a quite possibly a glimpse inside his heart. The piece is accompanied by the uplifting music of Neo Muyanga. Will Heinrich at Gallerist did an admirable describing visual elements so I won’t duplicate his efforts. I will say that the thing that makes this piece so successful is Kentridge’s ability, or possibly need, to be a storyteller. It closes Oct 26th. I highly recommend it.