I saw Philip Martin Gallery from across the street, walking for the walk signal. I thought I had walked into every gallery on Cienaga. I had even walked around that back loop on Cienaga Street with vague memories of a couple of galleries there, but now there aren’t any galleries there. I was surprised to see the building that used to house Von Lintel for sale in the way that I was surprised to see the café in my hometown had changed hands. If I remember right—I often don’t—I walked in the door, turned sharply down a hallway created by an open office that seemed modeled directly after an open kitchen in a restaurant, and into “Stilly,” a solo show of paintings by Holly Coulis.
How to see the infrastructural aesthetics of a painting? Look at the frame? The mount? Luckily, I don’t know. But I thought, maybe, to look for whatever worlds it might bring together. A painting being sold in a gallery on Cienaga Boulevard or whatever is a painting that is simultaneously an object of supposedly unfettered transcendental aesthetic reflection—I would say an infrastructural aesthetic is necessarily fettered—and a luxury commodity sold on a largely inaccessible and unregulated market. The painting is the object of both intellectual speculation, which usually considers itself separate from market forces, and economic speculation, which absorbs the intellectual speculation around a painting as copy. So, for me at least, maybe to look at the infrastructural aesthetic of a painting is to look at how, or if, a painting itself interacts with its paradoxical position as simultaneously object of transcendental contemplation unsullied by any kind of economy and object on a luxury commodity market.
Then again, saying, that Holly Coulis’s paintings resist intellectual grandstanding because of their flatness and silliness is as objectively correct as saying that, in their flattening of perspective and pooling out of color, they, oh I don’t know, return the viewer to a state of childlike innocence. The problem with talking about abstract art of any sort, from Minimalist sculpture to improvised music, is that anyone can say anything and not be wrong. But Coulis’s paintings, with their motifs of eggplants and turnips, their candy-color palette, their flattened out non-perspective and deadpan titles (Pineapple and Coffees) do strike me as gently implacable bulwarks against macho intellectualizing. I can think of, say, writing about the child psychologist Erick Fromm through these paintings, or finding a coded or not so-coded sexuality in the halved avocado in Pineapple and Coffees (2019) or the namesake vegetables of One Eggplant, Two Turnips (2019). Or writing about the Southern nostalgia and therefore racial implications of Lemonade and Smoke (2019) or Outside Watermelon (2019). Perhaps I’m blind to more macho interpretations, like a way of relating a painting of one eggplant and two turnips to some sort of “universal” truth or a hyper-specific interpretation that points to secret knowledge that I, as a cis man, harbor that is unavailable to you, as any-body else, because I don’t really think like that. What is the Platonic ideal of a turnip?