ART CRITIC  David Joselit asked in his much vaunted essay ‘Painting Beside Itself’ (2009), “How does painting belong to a network?”1 The genesis of this question sprung from enfant terrible Martin Kippenberger, who said in an interview in the ’90s that “To simply hang a picture on a wall and say it’s art is dreadful. The whole network is important.”2 Kippenberger’s interviewer at the time was funnily enough Jutta Koether, an artist who Joselit then proceeds to discuss in relation to her solo show ‘Lux Interior’ at New York’s Reena Spawling Gallery in 2009.

Koether, like all good apostles, visualised the gospel according to Kippenberger by placing a braced screen with a painting attached in the centre of Reena Spauling where two levels of the gallery floor meet. The screen stood slightly askew, with one foot of the wall brace standing on a step (what Joselit theatrically refers to as a “stage”) and one foot off the step: a painting-cum-stickman. To complete the staging a scoop light (stage light) “salvaged from The Saint, an ex-Manhattan gay night club” brings the scene into rhetorical focus: ‘rhetorical’ in the sense that three lecture-performances took place during the exhibition run, performed by Koether herself. Joselit goes on to describe this work as a “cynosure of performance, installation and painted canvas”. In addition, the critic’s term of endearment for this dance is “transitive” painting. By stepping away from the wall Joselit suggests painting begins to acknowledge that the wall is just not enough in this digital age of hyperlinks and multitudinous networks.

At The LAB Gabhann Dunne teeters on tradition; Susan Connolly embraces the transitive. Although officially presented as two independent exhibitions with two commissioned essays to boot, the work by these two artists cannot be viewed in isolation. Yes, it all looks like fun and games on the surface at The LAB but there’s a libidinal argy-bargy taking place due to the proximity of Connolly’s subtractive vandalism and Dunne’s cumulative nesting.

Dunne gets in the first slap, however, in The LAB’s atrium with a painted set-piece combined of a large tondo-shaped canvas with a gush of blue. Springing from the tondo are laces of blossom painted directly onto the wall. Up and up they go, from tondo to ceiling, as if caught in a jet of fresh air. There’s more of the same upstairs from Dunne, where his paintings and gallery garlands are aching for tradition and childhood. Sure, we could talk Tiepolo and eighteen century Rococo – but no, Dunne’s pastel palette, soft and heavy, dotes on woodland game, not the empyrean disco of the Italian Baroque church. We could also invoke Albrecht Dürer’s hare but enough is enough. Peter Rabbit? Laura Ashley interiors? Does Dunne not know that civilisation is built on the nursery room notion that girls prefer pastels and boys primaries? Why is he messing with the order of things! This is a form of latent vandalism in its own right.

It doesn’t end there. Social and aesthetic binaries also come into play at The LAB: alive and dead, poetry and politics, interiority and exteriority, violence and protection, rape and love, beauty and the fugly. But it’s not Dunne’s paintings alone that do all this, oh no, that would be too much to ask from any artist. What complicates Dunne’s paintings is Connolly, who more than shares the attention in the main gallery downstairs at The LAB.

Earlier I described Joselit’s  “transitive painting” as a dance. Most painters don’t like to dance, so the experience of paintings posturing on timber or metal braces on the gallery floor is understandably a rare thing. When painters do take to the floor the majority of the time it looks ungainly. In this country we have seen a few painters do just that – Nevan Lahart, Mark O’Kelly (elegantly so at eva International 2014) and Neil Carroll among the few. Connolly has been braving the floor for a few years now, but only in recent years has she produced the true fruits of her labour.

Hanging and standing full-back and full-frontal on metal braces in the main gallery and towards the back in the darkroom space, Connelly presents just three results of her performative process. I say ‘results’ because there is something highly experimental in these works that not only challenges the observer as to the process and property of their anatomy, but also, I suspect, challenges Connolly herself in how they may or may not turn out in her roll-the-dice final surgeries.

You can spy Connolly’s geometric anatomy just under the canvas covers, canvases that have been sliced to leave scores of gashes and scars: Lucio Fontana anyone? This is followed by incisions made along the vertical edges of the painting so a layer can be stripped back to see what remains underneath, back and front, and in the skirt of material that ends up draped on the floor.

It’s quite difficult to ascertain where Connolly’s paintings begin and end. However, like a true deconstructionist suspicious of illusion, the artist disrobes her paintings by painting the bare bones of her process directly onto the gallery wall. The bare bones that undergird Connolly’s work is a simple geomatic anatomy of layered circles, squares and diamonds of process colour (magenta, cyan, yellow). This geometric anatomy, a process that precedes her maiming of the canvas, forms a Tetris tower that spans the height and width of a very, very tall wall in the main gallery of The LAB. In a sense this is Connolly’s underpainting revealed. It reminds me of the strategy game Connect Four from the 1970s and after. In fact Connolly’s process is seemingly based on regimental tactics and routines that are faithfully followed until it is time to lose her religion. In another sense this is the setting up of the chessboard before the game; before the dance.

The Greek myth of Marsyas the satyr comes to mind when surrounded by Connolly’s work. Marsyas was hung from a tree and skinned alive for his hubris in challenging the gods to a musical contest of all things (viscerally portrayed by Titian in the 1570s). From Marsyas blood “came the source of the river in Phrygia”.3 In this myth, as in Connolly’s paintings, skinning and regeneration go hand-in-hand.

We could say “transitive painting” is released from the shackles of tradition; or, just a way of inventing new shackles for those bored with the old restrictions of the frame and the wall: a case of Harry Houdini. I’m not advocating all painters take up Connolly’s dance, a dance that invariably falls flat in most hands. But at The LAB, where nature and nurture can be experienced passively suckling on one another in an orgy of consensual colours and forms in the paintings of Gabhann Dunne, Susan Connolly’s surgery of the canvas in contrast is somehow regenerative. It lives!

[James Merrigan]


1David Joselit, ‘Painting Beside Itself’, October, Vol. 130 (October,2009),  The MIT Press, pp.125-134.


3Available from:

[accessed 11 May 2015]

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The Dance.

IMAGE CREDITS: ©Susan Connolly, Gabhann Dunne and The LAB, Dublin.

Thank you to The Lab for images and additional information.


When the Ceiling Meets the Floor


Magenta Honey

>>>>>>>>13 June

The LAB, Dublin.


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