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Carl Ostendarp, "Blanks"

Critics' pick
1/4
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Carl Ostendarp, Charles Earland, 2014
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Carl Ostendarp, Groove Holmes, 2014
Free

A pall of conflicting emotions seems to hang over Carl Ostendarp’s current exhibition, a mix of cheerfulness and depressive funk that finds expression through a series of monochrome canvases. Empty save for the artist’s initials, they’re carefully spaced around the room, coated in dampened shades of pink, yellow and orange. The lettering is large and crude, resembling something you might find on an ineptly executed yard-sale sign. The characters C and O bump up against the bottom edge of each painting, floating up and down (and sometimes apart) from one piece to the next. Put together in an animated sequence, they’d make a hypnotic, if somewhat bleak, screen saver.

Ostendarp was part of a wave of Yale-trained painters during the early-to-mid-’90s who took a dyspeptic approach to reviving various art-historical genres. For Ostendarp, that meant ’70s-style minimalist abstraction done with a cartoonish touch—in this case, sending up a nearly forgotten category of site-specific painting that was a thing between 1965 and 1975. Ostendarp compounds the obscurity of the reference by naming each work after a noted player of the Hammond organ (e.g. Groove Holmes).

While the paintings appear to be installed as they are for a reason, there is no sense of spatial dynamics here—only a numb presence. The works are meant as nihilistic parody, one where the artist’s signature serves as a self-canceling gesture. In this respect, the show’s title does more than just describe the relatively clean slates on view; it refers to drawing a blank or shooting them. In a way, Ostendarp allows that he’s doing both, giving a world-weary shrug to a creative dead end and an art world running on fumes.

—Howard Halle

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