This Endless Love Isn’t Really Erotic-It’s Reactionary

The exhibition called Endless Love , which the painter Mark Greenwold has organized at the DC Moore Gallery, is not to be mistaken for a show about sex or romance, even though the painting illustrated on the cover of its announcement-Hilary Harkness’ Gallic Beauties of Yesteryear (2001)-depicts a bevy of seductive, semi-clad girls strewn about a rocky hillside waiting for something to happen. Are they preparing for, or recovering from, an outdoor orgy-or merely breathless from their climb? Who knows? And, more to the point, who cares? Like so much else to be seen in Endless Love , Gallic Beauties is an enigma that fails to arouse even a flicker of curiosity.

In any case, the “endless love” that dares to speak its name in this exhibition isn’t sexual passion but something else: a devotion to the kind of art that requires painstaking, time-consuming, labor-intensive craftsmanship for its realization. Still, such is Mr. Greenwold’s penchant for eroticizing the discussion of art that he can’t resist telling us that “The artists I’ve assembled here would I think agree with Mae West who famously said, ‘I like a man who takes his time.'”

Be that as it may, there are more than a few works in the show, starting with a bizarre painting by Mr. Greenwold himself called The Need to Understand (2002-3), that might better be described as examples of terminal creepiness. In this picture of a claustrophobic bourgeois interior, there are hyper-realist depictions of a man and a woman attired in identical sleeveless dresses. For some reason, the cross-dressing gent with a white beard is seen to be levitating, perhaps to avoid contact with the oversize mouse and cat in the foreground, while another, more conventionally dressed female figure enters the scene through an open door. The heads of all three figures are adorned with halo-like floating designs that may or may not be parodies of abstract painting.

I raise the question of the halo designs because Mr. Greenwold appears to harbor a deep grudge against Modernism. His is a very simpleminded notion of Modernism, which he conceives to be an aesthetic blight in urgent need of militant opposition. “Modernism, especially in the visual arts,” he writes, “has often been invested in making the handiwork disappear, making it invisible; so the final product appears as a cool and effortless thing.” He also speaks of “the Modernist bias against taking a long time, as well as what seems to me … a related prejudice against work that reveals too much craft [and] too much caring on the artist’s part.”

Who among the recognized masters of Modernism can be accused of an indifference to craftsmanship? Certainly not Constantin Brancusi, commonly regarded as the greatest of Modernist sculptors and one of the greatest craftsmen in the history of art. Nor can Braque or Bonnard or Beckmann-or, for that matter, Picasso or Matisse-be arraigned on such a charge. What, then, is Mr. Greenwold talking about?

My guess is that he identifies Modernism with some of the more slapdash varieties of Abstract Expressionist painting. Or he may be suffering from a too literal reading of Harold Rosenberg’s famous essay on “Action Painting.” Whatever he has in mind when he speaks of Modernism, what he clearly prefers in art is a finicky, reactionary mode of academic realism, with its accretions of minute detail, and imagery that sounds a note of creepiness or dread.

There’s more than enough to make one’s skin crawl in Endless Love : Among much else, Elizabeth King’s untitled bald female head from 2003, made of glass eyes, wood, metals, cloth and eyelashes; Charles LeDray’s Hole (1998), which consists of a child’s shirt, tie and jacket on a hanger, but with a large hole in its middle; and JoAnne Carson’s glittery, junky sculpture (as I suppose it must be called), Puppet’s Dream (2003), made of cast fiberglass, thermoplastic, metal leaf, found objects and oil paint. Mr. Greenwold certainly has broad tastes when it comes to artists’ materials, for other works in the Endless Love show make use of painted Styrofoam, chenille stems, velvet and dye on a cotton pillowcase, acrylic yarns and even-no doubt for old times’ sake-egg tempera on a gesso panel.

Somehow, a few-a very few-works of art worth looking at have also found their way into this mess of an exhibition. Alfred Jensen’s abstract painting from 1960 is one of them, but its absurd mathematical title is too long and too silly to cite here; others are the drawings by Myron Stout and Giorgio Marandi, which in this exhibition look like aliens from another planet. By and large, however, Endless Love is of interest mainly as an anthology of the endless number of ways in which it is now possible to create really bad art. It remains on view at the DC Moore Gallery, 724 Fifth Avenue at 57th Street, through Feb. 7.