Ian Whitmore: The Devil, a Shadow, the Notice of a Small falling Leaf

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Editorial Review

A bit of everything
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, Feb. 24, 2012

It's common practice for artists to redo other people's work, whether in the spirit of homage or mockery. That's what Ian Whitmore does, except that the artist he remodels is himself. The pictures in his "A Devil, the Shadow, the Notice of a Small Falling Leaf," at G Fine Art, are doubly diverse. Not only does Whitmore work in various styles, but he often returns to a long-ignored painting to complete it in a different mode than he began.

A George Washington University graduate who moved to Brooklyn in 2008, Whitmore takes perverse inspiration from radical 16th-century Protestant reformer Andreas Karlstadt, the source of the show's wordy title. Karlstadt considered religious paintings and sculpture idolatrous and wanted them removed from churches. Whitmore's goal isn't religious, but he seeks the iconoclasts' boldness to destroy art - even if it's only his own.

This process, which Whitmore calls "detuning," makes for some lively contrasts. "Grey Gardens" is half realist rendering of a classical building, half abstract-expressionist freakout. The punning "Short Trip" subverts the tradition of the sacred triptych by assembling three unrelated canvases. The book-size "My Copy" is designed to look as if the artist has painted over a real tome; its title, barely visible, includes the phrase "master forger."

There's a crucifix in one of these pictures, but Whitmore is just as a likely to refer to science as to theology. One canvas shows a rocket blasting off (among other things); another is modeled on early 20th-century industrial efficiency studies. "Keyhole," painted on a jaggedly shaped canvas, is derived from photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope; it plays on the way the telescope's finished photos are edited and composited from many individual shots. One of the strangest and most striking pieces in the show, "Keyhole" is a rare case in which Whitmore tries to find, rather than lose, a coherent image.