REVIEW: Loren Munk: Street Viewing

Beard and Brush

September 2011

Swarming with openings and engagements, New York City artists and their place in history exist most vividly these days within the info-conscious paintings of Loren Munk. The artist exuberantly plots the residences and studios of well known visual artists, critics and galleries in his current show at Lesley Heller Workspace entitled “Location, Location, Location”. Within bubbles of info, painted with intense taffy-coated colors and hand-painted words loosely resembling printed type, Munk denotes names, addresses and tidbits of info (Rothko chose the arteries in his elbows to commit suicide). The bubbles are connected by lines which pinpoint the geographic ‘place’ on an underlying map. Text, color and linear mish-mash congest the spaces with historical fragments and a visual patchwork of record keeping that feels especially homemade and definitively personal despite the artist’s outward preoccupation.

Loren Munk is better known by some as a renegade art reporter of sorts. He publishes an independent YouTube stream of impromptu spoken art reviews under the name James Kalm. Given ‘Kalm’s’ alternative voice as a critic, characterized by a soft-spoken air of confidence and some crazed hand-held taping, Munk is transparently involved in the culture that he so actively plots. His awareness of ‘the scene’, and his desire to tape the locations he visits, further asserts his place as a surveyor or documentarian of his own art community and as a contributor to its cultural visibility online. In many ways, if Munk’s painted maps were put on ‘street’view’ they may give us Kalm’s videos and a voice under each gallery rooftop to connect the two realms.

Munk’s generosity with details and an insider’s disclosure of ‘locations’ (some are undoubtedly current addresses) makes his paintings informative, albeit gently naughty to read. A commercialized swagger of marketing propaganda in bold-faced outlined type reminds us of art market shifts and hyped ever-changing zones of art world-cool. In “What Manhattan Makes Brooklyn Takes” (2004-06) viewers will notice one of these evolutions illustrated. Activity in neighborhoods that once reigned supreme as ‘it’ art zones are mapped alongside what represents current activity, thus depicting the transient geographic sectors suitable for the homes and studios of creatives of the time. Robert Ryman, Clifford Still, and Elaine DeKooning are plotted among a hundred or so other names, some long gone, others producing work in those very locations to this day. Amy Silman and other long time Brooklyn painters smatter a close up mini-map of Williamsburg.

Written into the painting are quotes that direct the narrative; “The history of art cannot be held hostage by one street on the west side of Manhattan.” The ad-like aesthetic here helps us to consider the role of influence and turning points in the art-world. Through quotes, addresses and text, we can re-live the first impact of each sentiment and revolt.

With our abilities to chart and graph almost anything with a few clicks, one must ask the question when studying Munk’s densely painted body of work, why use paint at all to create this? In SOHO Map Study (2005-06) Munk plays with his aesthetic arrangement in preparation for a larger and more comprehensive version, which hangs across from it in his show. His composition and spatial organization (in the aesthetic sense) focusing around 420 W Broadway within the study are clearly preparations for the larger piece. Looking towards the artist’s wide but harmonious palette and sumptuous knifed pigment, it becomes clear that the artist also cares about painting’s more formal attributes and seems to be careful to re-arrange text and color to suit compositional balance. His results demonstrate what we can only assume is the driving force for him; a respect and obsession with his topic. Munk’s layers of edits, imperfections and overlaps are left visible too, a gritty reminder of the ever-changing and subjective nature of the communities he studies- all the underlying scandals, snubs and jealousy buried beneath fake grins.

Munk’s process, as a painter, fruitfully synthesizing and selecting the artists, movements and happenings he plots is essential to consider. Through both his video reviews and his studio practice, he wields the power to edit and ‘place’ artists and ideas of his choosing into these mediums. Using a map as a device, especially with allusions to important historical events, he postures a sense of factual authority through recordkeeping. Munk, unlike an archivist or a professional cartographer at that, charts the story and history as he knows it or as he chooses to read it. This is key in separating the history-lesson side of Munk’s work from the more personally expressive – the latter a more sensual and enjoyable way to take in these paintings. The artist, the critic and the historian remain Munk’s roles to define and in essence, his to re-situate in various hues.

Read more about the artist

Loren Munk