The art critic Lyn Smallwood wrote, "Finally, there's a selection of large and cheerfully counterfeit dollar bills painted by Robert Dowd and Phillip Hefferton, of which the less seen the better. Dowd's `Van Gogh Dollar' of 1965 was indeed prophetic, but it doesn't prevent it from being stupid. At its best, pop was a form of high comedy that posed a number of genuinely philosophical questions. At its worst, it really was a species of dull joke too often repeated." Do you agree?
Another way to phrase the issue that Smallwood raises is: "Where do you draw the line between imitating commercial art and becoming it?" The easy to understand one-liner visual jokes of Dowd's and Hefferton's paintings may be more along the lines of humorous greeting cards than paintings. But then, could you say the same thing about Ed Ruscha's paintings? I think not, but you might not agree. In my opinion, Ruscha's work is much more subtle and complex than Dowd's and Hefferton's. Ruscha is not a one-liner artist. How could anyone fail to get the jokes of Dowd's and Hefferton's paintings, and once you get them, what more do they have to offer?
The paintings of Robert Dowd
and Phillip Hefferton have more in
common with the anti-art attitudes
of the San Francisco Bay Area
"funk" style and Bay Area Figurative
painting than to Los Angeles styles.
Funk artists celebrated things that
were so bad that they were good,
like the ancedote about Sears giving
a party for its employees who all
show up wearing Montgomery
Ward suits. It's a funny story, but so what? Bay Area Figurative painters merge the flourished brushwork of the style called Abstract Expressionism with sun-drenched suburban California figures. There may be too many borrowings and not enough originality in Dowd and Hefferton to place their art on the same plane as Ruscha, Goode, Baldessari, and Bengston. The text panel at the end of this exhibition will discuss why this may be the case.
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Joe Goode came home one day shortly after his daughter was born and was struck by the milk bottles lined up at the front foor. Shortly after that he made a series of thirteen milk-bottle paintings between 1961 and 1963. Picture a home-delivered milk bottle standing before a suburban front door, bathed in the oddly bright but refracted light of Los Angeles' smog. There you have Goode's milk-bottle paintings. They don't seem so preposterous now, do they?
Art often draws its greatest strength from ambiguity and subtlety. Knowing the above anecdote may be comforting, but it doesn't explain the paintings. Andy Warhol began the first Campbell's Soup Can paintings in 1961, the year Goode finished his first milk-bottle paintings. Warhol's images of mass-produced food have become icons of American taste. Goode's paintings seem nostalgic in comparison, bringing back the days when milk was home-delivered and you could trust your neighbors not to steal it off your doorstep. Goode's paintings hark back to a bygone middle-class surburban way of life.
Do the canvases painted a single color throw you? That other artists had painted monochromatic, or one-color canvases prior to Goode may not be reassuring. Think of the canvas as a surburban front door and your discomfort will disappear. At the same time as representing the mundane everyday world, Goode experiments along the lines of the most radical recent art. Using both pre-existing three-dimensional objects (or sculpture) and monochromatic paintings. Goode combines two of the most radical artistic ideas of his time. The ambiguity of being both mundane and radical at the same time is these paintings' strength.