Seeing art through a painter’s eyes.
Salle is something of a Renaissance man. Known primarily as a painter, he has also done photography and set design, directed a film, and written essays. These concise pieces, many previously published in publications like Town & Country and Artforum, discuss mainly contemporary works of art, including film and ballet. It’s art criticism, but it’s also a breath of fresh air. There’s no jargon here, just accessible, witty, smartly informative short takes about works Salle enjoys. When looking at art, he writes, “take a work’s temperature, look at its surface energy.” He asks: “What makes a work of art tick, what makes it good?” Surprising, quirky comparisons abound. The 15th-century painter Piero Della Francesca is the “Elia Kazan of staging.” Alex Katz’s paintings are recognizable even when falling out of a plane at 30,000 feet. Thomas Houseago’s sculptures remind Salle of a scene in The Sopranos. Throughout, the author is honest and opinionated. When he first saw Roy Lichtenstein’s Reflections series, he was baffled. Frank Stella’s early works are “expansive, confident, and new as to be almost overwhelming.” In the later work, we see a “great champion of the ring, a little wobbly of knee, finally hit the canvas.” Of Oscar Murillo’s paintings, Salle writes, “there is no way to bring them to life, because they never lived in the first place.” Three essays are about John Baldessari, one of Salle’s college professors, who spent his career putting words and pictures together, “testing their stickiness and elasticity, using one to unravel, or to gather up, the other.” The German painter Albert Oehlen is a “terrific painter who flirts with disaster and gets away with it.” Jeff Koons makes the “thingyness of modern life…coherent.” His massive Flower Puppy, writes the author, is the “single greatest work of public sculpture made after Rodin that I’ve seen.”
Salle is the perfect art tour guide: literate, thoroughly entertaining, and insightful.