Can abstract painting be social? – that’s the question posed by art historian Media Farzin in the opening text for Unstable Paintings for Anxious Interiors, a new monograph dedicated to New York-based artist Kamrooz Aram. The question, she goes on to elucidate, is whether abstraction can ever really engage with and interrogate the current state of the world. Simply put, is abstract painting really all that relevant anymore?
Over the course of the next 80 pages, Aram and a band of writers set out to wrangle with that question, presenting works that are part palimpsest, part studies in the un-tethering of the 20th century’s grand tradition of abstraction. The monograph includes writings by Farzin, Eva Díaz (Assistant Professor of Contemporary Art at Pratt Institute, New York) and an insightful conversation between critic-curator Murtaza Vali and Aram. Along with a healthy selection of the artist’s recent works, the pace of Unstable Paintings is interspersed with details from the canvases that really show off the new direction that Aram has taken in this batch of work.
Back in 2012, Aram exhibited a selection of canvases at Green Art Gallery, Dubai, (Brute Ornament) that attempted to depict the crisis of abstract art – a process of unhinging that began with modernism’s rejection of ornamentation and has culminated in a general distrust of anything that has even the patina of being ‘decorative’. While abstraction was the medium, painting as a practice was the subject in these works, which questioned whether painting could survive in an artworld more hostile than ever to ornamentation in contemporary art. If the works in Brute Ornament were questions, the images in Unstable Paintings for Anxious Interiors appear to hint at tentative answers. In his search for a language of painting that can still enter into a conversation that’s relevant outside of the tradition, Aram has turned to that master of immediacy – Cy Twombly, who, he tells Vali, ‘[P]ushed the expressionistic mark to engage social, historical and mythological content.’