Owens’s mid-career works feel completely sterile, mainstream, and middlebrow — with just enough insider info to flatter the viewer who knows something about Roland Barthes.
Laura Owens, “Untitled” (2004), acrylic and oil on linen, 66 x 66 inches, collection of Nina Moore (© Laura Owens)
At a time when anything can be considered art, Laura Owens does all of it with impunity. She draws in paint with a loaded brush while bringing together various forms of mechanical and digital reproduction, essentially bridging a binary that the art world has focused on since the 1960s: the hand-painted versus the machine-made. There are other binaries that she also bridges, all of them said to be of historical importance: the relationship between abstraction and figuration, and between sincerity and irony, for example.
Owens, who was born in Euclid, Ohio, in 1970 and now lives in Los Angeles, came of age after the Pictures Generation superseded Neo-Expressionism. For her, like many artists of her generation, everything is a readymade. This includes paint (another tool at her disposal); Color Field painting; the brushstroke, squiggle, and line; Chinese and Japanese art; Indian miniatures; abstraction; figuration; abstract illusionism; inspirational posters; children’s book illustrations; greetings cards; thrift store merchandise; wheels from bicycles, go carts, and strollers; buttons; embroidery and appliqué; mythology; essays on other artists. Owens is unabashed about displaying her gluttony…………….
Laura Owens, “Untitled” (2014) (detail), ink, silkscreen ink, vinyl paint, acrylic, oil, pastel, paper, wood, solvent transfers, stickers, handmade paper, thread, board, and glue on linen and polyester, five parts: 138 1/8 x 106 ½ x 2 5/8 inches overall, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Jonathan Sobel (© Laura Owens)
In “Untitled” (2014), which is derived from an inspirational poster you might see in the hallway of an elementary school, Owens makes a few additions and interruptions to the image of man whose head has become a lemonade juicer, with his bald pate joined to a blue funnel and his nose as the spigot. In another, related painting, a boy and dog dangle from a rope, accompanied by the words: “When you come to the end of your rope, you make a knot, and hang on.”