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Balling Off Painting: MoMA Opens ‘The Forever Now’

Joe Bradley. Abelmuth. 2008.

Joe Bradley, Abelmuth, 2008.

COURTESY THE ARTIST AND CANADA

Tuesday night, at the Museum of Modern Art’s opening for “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World,” most people had a hard time remembering when the last group show of young painters had happened at the museum (technically, the last full-on contemporary painting survey was in 1984). With that in mind, no matter what anyone thinks about the show—or even the current state of painting in general—it could be argued that an exhibition of this nature was somewhat overdue.

The actor Mike Myers was in attendance at the opening, and very enthusiastic about Matt Connor’s very large Variable Foot. “My context of why I like it is from the Monkees television show in the ‘60s,” he said. “The color scheme is very evocative of my childhood and all the things that I loved.” In other words: one very “shagadelic” painting!

L.E.S. gallery Canada was well represented, with a total of three artists—Joe Bradley, Connors, and Michael Williams—in the show. “It’s like a yard sale, really, of all the important paintings that you should have bought two or three years ago,” remarked Canada’s Phil Grauer. Are they for sale? “I guess they could be. If you ask enough.”

Marilyn Minter was in the building, and generally happy with the show, although she wished “they would have given these artists a lot more room. But there’s a lot of really beautiful art in here.” When asked to recall the last MoMA group survey of contemporary painting, Minter had to dig back a few decades.

Within earshot was Whitney curator Chrissie Iles, who, when asked the same question, was hesitant to respond. “I don’t answer those kinds of trick questions,” she said. Not a trick, just good old-fashioned ignorance!

“Michael [Williams] and I performed here around seven years ago with Cory Arcangel and Paper Rad,” said Dre Skull, the dancehall reggae producer and Snoop Dogg collaborator, who was decked out in a blue sweatshirt and beanie embroidered with the logo of Houston rap label Swishahouse. “A lot has changed” since then, he added.

Williams himself shared that sentiment. “You know, as you walk through this show, Joe (Bradley)’s paintings are the first thing you see and mine are the last,” he said. “We’ve shared many years of obscurity and idiocy together so for us to have the first and last words is very surreal and profound for me.”

The significance of the exhibition was not lost on other young artists in attendance. “It’s pretty good to be alive and see your shit in MoMA, you can ball off of that,” said Jayson Musson, who was accompanied by Borna Sammak, who had a somewhat less positive take. “I guess being a painting is a lot like being a gay person—no matter what the fuck you look like thousands of people will still think you’re hot,” he joked.

On the mood-lit (think Virgin Airlines or maybe a chill-out room at a rave in the late ‘90s) ground floor, a tightly packed crowd jostled to get drinks. Despite the chaos, one bartender seemed to be in a particularly good mood. “What’s up party people,” he said jovially to a group of young women, his tone splitting the difference between lame and corny.

That very party continued on at 88 Palace restaurant in Chinatown, where a DJ played disco classics (Sister Sledge “Lost In Music”) and waiters rolled around dim-sum carts. Dealer (and ARTnews columnist) Bill Powers was in attendance.

“I mean, I had a couple of shrimp rolls and I’m ready to go,” said Powers, who cited Mark Grotjahn’s circus paintings as particular standouts in the show, and mentioned a friend who “likes to say he’s against group shows, because he doesn’t want to be invited to dinner and only get served hors d’oeuvres.

“But,” he continued, “I think there were quite a few entrees in the line-up tonight.”

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