Common among the paradigms of art criticism is the notion that all art has some essential
relationship to death and/or nostalgia. Benjamin Cottam, in his first New York solo show,
inverts this principle with a terse eloquence that spans the mediums of painting, drawing,
While classically scaled, approximately three by four feet, Cottam’s portraits are of
undisclosed subjects. And, in contrast to classical portraiture, rather than capture moments
or images in time, Cottam’s paintings—at first glance a series of eight black monoliths—
sever presumed sentimentality. Cottam’s oils gain more from the future than the past; it is
by studied looking that the forms of Cottam’s works take shape. Only gradually are
foregrounds, followed by backgrounds, on the cusp of perception, realized/invented by the
viewer. Furthering an insistence on, in lieu of retrospection, prospection, a 20-foot-plus
white mural by Cottam disallows itself even a reliance on the hues of shadows. A
seemingly bare gallery wall is in fact a mural in glow-in-the-dark paint—a self-portrait of
the artist in Rome, which references the 1953 Audrey Hepburn film Roman Holiday, and the
Henry James novel, The Portrait of the Lady. Shown exclusively in the brightened gallery,
the full scene will only avail itself to those who are willing to invest in the work, either by
patient looking, or, literally, by the act of collecting (an act which grants the viewer access
to the work in darkness as well as light). What Cottam has divested himself of, in the
process of rendering himself invisible (invisible paint), is the expectation that the artist’s
identity precedes significances brought by the viewer. In fifteen small drawings (3 1/2 by 4
1/2 inches) of deceased artists—some famous, some forgotten–Cottam brings forth this
very point. Alice Neel, Elaine & Willem DeKooning, David Park, Bob Thompson, Bob
Flanagan, Arshile Gorky, Alberto Giacometti, Joseph Beuys, Balthus—all undergo an
egalitarian miniaturization into silverpoint (which is itself an antiquated, delicate technique).
In creation, as well as ownership, there is an inherent fragility and transience—and Cottam’
s more fundamental incentive is to represent a kind of potential memory, where we are
unencumbered by the strictures elapsed experience.
Benjamin Cottam received his BA from the San Francisco Art Institute, and his MFA from
the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. He has exhibited in
group shows since 1999, and was granted the Dana Pond Award for Excellence in Painting
in 2000 and 2002.
The opening will take place on Thursday, April 22nd from 6 – 8 pm. For further
information please contact the gallery.
April 22nd - May 22nd, 2004
Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, Inc.