GETTIN' DOWN WITH MELISSA BROWN
I bought a painting on aluminum by Melissa Brown from Kravets/Wehby Gallery in 2004, because I liked it. The purchase depicted the ermine from Leonardo's Lady with Ermine (also "covered" by Elizabeth Peyton, by the way), pictured against a backdrop of bombs dropping on Baghdad during the first Gulf War.
I had no idea what the hell it meant and, for years, when I showed this painting to visitors, I would say, when they asked who did it, "It's by the other Brown -- you know, not Cecily Brown or Glenn Brown or Delia Brown, but Melissa Brown," an answer usually greeted by a shrug of the shoulders.
Now, Melissa Brown has what are simultaneously the best and worst credentials for a visual artist -- a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA from Yale. This means that her practice combines a rigorous overtraining of the hand with a hyperdriven intellectual justification for her art, all of which surpass the complexity of Cecily, Glenn and Delia's efforts combined, which might seem impossible, but then you haven't met Melissa.
Her hopscotch and mostly under-the-radar career features the elaborate creation of games, the most famous of which was a lottery system Melissa developed for an exhibition at Bellwether Gallery. In short, Melissa cannot put brush to canvas without the justification of an incomprehensible system that she masterminds beforehand.
Thus, it was with some trepidation that I surmised that Melissa Brown had zeroed her talents in on my favorite, and most frequently viewed, bit of landscape -- the Palisades, across the Hudson in New Jersey, which I observe weekly during my train commute to Westchester on MetroNorth. Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton on the Palisades, whose famous and long-gone amusement park was the subject of Freddie Cannon's 1962 number one hit record Palisades Park.
These associations are far too pedestrian for my pal Melissa, however, and her experience of the Palisades, now on view at Kansas gallery on Franklin Street, includes a kind of rappelling, scavenger hunt, place-finding system worthy of the founder of game theory, Dr. Johnnie von Neumann. Basically (I think), Melissa conflates specific objects with specific places on the Palisades and turns them into a topographical painting search that has esthetic similarities to the work of artists like Dan Kopp and Inka Essenhigh.
They are quite pleasing, but the rationale behind them makes me want to lie down. Maybe I'll buy one anyway -- and good luck with your show, Melissa. I mean it.
“Melissa Brown: Palisades,” Feb. 25-Mar. 31, 2012, KANSAS gallery, 59 Franklin Street, New York, N.Y. 10013.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).