Portrait of the Artist: Molly Zuckerman-Hartung/Corbett vs.
Although Molly Zuckerman-Hartung belongs to a younger generation
than most of the painters that Corbett vs. Dempsey exhibits, her work has both
the psychological depth and the resolute dedication to color that characterizes
many of their artists. Zuckerman-Hartung’s sensibility emerges from a range of
influences, from punk rock to French literature and Modernism. She describes
her riot grrrl ethos as a sense “that you don’t have to know how to do something
in order to do it,” so her work is an incendiary mix of raw desire and an
admirably refined knowledge of painting.
The series of small, powerful paintings in the current solo
exhibition—each one different and clashing with the one next to it—sets up the kind
of “shocks” that filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein created using the technique of
montage, exemplifying a very contemporary inchoate but still revolutionary
fervor. Zuckerman-Hartung’s fragments of images, layers of color, marks of
indecision and drifting shape-shifting forms are a catalog of compositional
possibilities and rich references to the erotic vitality of paint, in contrast
to some disappointingly literal images of porn. The artist and I talked for a
while about an elusive sense of continuity among radical disjunctions of the
evolving forms. It’s something powerful but hard to pin down that holds the
work together at the same time as it flies apart.
Zuckerman-Hartung is as fluent with concepts as she is with
pigment, explaining her aesthetics in terms of dialectics, syntagmas,
subjectivity, accumulation over time and a fixation on mysterious sealed
archives. She studied French literature at Evergreen College in Washington, but
traveled and worked in bookstores before she pursued her MFA at SAIC, so she is
able to hold a conversation on a literary and theoretical level without a trace
of arrogance or condescension. Her excitement about the work and the process of
painting is as generative and catching as if she were handing you a good book.
Her website gives a glimpse of her literary talents at the same
time as it offers insight into her overall aesthetic. She sets up forms of
order like the alphabet and then throws off the viewer with aleatory visual and
textual elements, as if she is proposing a logical structure and then
subverting it. She does have a secret past as a writer, an ardent fan of the
sixteenth-century essayist Montaigne as well as Susan Sontag, having given up a
possible career as a translator, seeking something in the process of painting,
possibly what Adrianne Rich refers to as “relief” in “Planetarium,” a poem
dedicated to the astronomer Caroline Herschel.“The relief of the body and the
reconstruction of the mind” may be implicit in the process of what
Zuckerman-Hartung called the “gestation” of a work. In any case, she contends
that “Painting is a door, writing is a wall right now,” and others agree. She
has just had a successful exhibition in New York and will have a solo
exhibition at the MCA this spring. (Janina Ciezadlo)
Molly Zuckerman-Hartung shows at Corbett vs. Dempsey, 1120 N.
Ashland Ave., through March 17, 2012.