catalog essays

Gallery 33
March 6 – May 15, 2005

Recently, October 14, 2004, to be exact, Michael Kimmelman, chief art critic for the New York Times, wrote a review titled Looking Long and Hard which began: “Not another day should pass without noting that the most wonderful little show in memory has landed in town. It consists of just six paintings and two drawings by the Italian artist Giorgio Morandi. And if the world were a perfect place it would be on view forever…” and ends his article with the words, “pure heaven.” Interestingly, this “most wonderful little show in memory” may have produced the shortest Kimmelman review in memory, a mere 395 words. One would have expected that such superlatives would have given rise to Kimmelman’s more typical penchant to bloviate, stacking up enough verbiage to approach the 7,000 plus words he wrote on Gerhard Richter. Though his enthusiasm for Morandi, I trust, was real enough, it was clear that our art critic was out of his element. There was a sense of desperation as he insisted on squeezing from the paintings a “moral implication” and offered a laughable metaphor of “ducklings following their mother” to describe a row of bottles.

It is precisely art such as Giorgio Morandi’s that renders superfluous the critical process. The result of the most refined pictorial intellect, starkly formal yet possessed, in his own words, of an interest only in ‘what’s in nature, the visible world, that is”, Morandi’s painting imposes the immediacy of experience, and not the mediated deliberation of that experience. The inescapable quality and essence of the plastic arts that inhabits his distilled oeuvre silences the secondary, parasitic ramblings of the theorists, the critics, the academics, and their cadre of complicit artists.

And thus it is with the painter Stuart Shils, a product of that same refined pictorial intellect. His work does not provide the impetus for word production, nothing for the epistemic, midrashic or exegetical mindset to latch onto. In order to enter these paintings a cultural inversion must be undertaken, rejecting the safety and familiarity of substituting a verbal encounter for an aesthetic one. One must desire to find meaning and depth in surfaces and appearances, and not in significance, that which is imagined to be behind those surfaces. In painting, the sensual, the beautiful, the felt, the wonder of the perceived world, reside in the superficial, the tactile, and not in the distortions of intellection. In order to gain admittance to the enlightened primary discourse evoked in the work of Stuart Shils, one must possess a memory of and intimacy with that ongoing dialogue vis-à-vis ancient predecessors, as well as his fertile references to Turner, Bonington, Constable, Dickinson, and the urgency of the plein air impulse.

Painters today are extremophiles. Their very existence is a self perpetuating fulfillment of that condition. The appearance of Stuart Shils’ work here provides the perfect ecosystem to bear out painting’s enduring values.

Let’s not let words get in between the viewer and the experience of art.

Let’s just say the most beautiful little show in memory has landed in Tel Aviv. Pure painting.

Israel Hershberg Jerusalem, 2005