Curated by Peter Plagens
workmanlike & plain
sense of humor
by Peter Plagens
The strength of Ron Linden's art is that it doesn't go down smoothly. Just when you think you've got it pegged generationally (the post-Minimalist boys), morphologically (abstract painting) and temperamentally (glowering 1970's standoffishness), it starts to squirm loose in your head. Linden is not interested in cordoning off previously unclaimed "is-it-is-or-is-it-ain't-art" territory and stamping it as his own. His work is painting, and pretty much abstract, but, like the oil-change drippings on a mechanic's cardboard dropcloth, Rorschach-like references seep into it. Where the kind of art that Marcia Tucker, with a hint of derision, used to call "MAA art" (major, ambitious, abstract) made a big deal out of being big and-it hoped-profound, Linden's work is physically modest, "sneaky-pretty," and almost sentimental in a late-industrial kind of way.
Linden was born and raised in Chicago, schooled at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and given tenure as a young art professor by Bradley University, Peoria, IL. But once he scored a leave and headed to Los Angeles, CA for what was supposed to be a summer and a semester, he never looked back. A couple of teaching gigs did come along, but for twenty years he made his living in Southern California as a "scenic artist" in the television and movie business-building sets, rolling vast, shiny colored dance floors and making sure the game-show host had a secure place to stand. In addition to learning how to stay calm in the midst of other people going crazy under the deadlines of preparing silly, expensive shows for broadcast, Linden picked up a whole bag of scenic artists' tricks and turned them into his own painterly vernacular.
At first, he rode his BMW motorcycle to the studios in Burbank, CA from nearby Pasadena. Then he rode from just south of downtown Los Angeles in the flower market district. His swan-song commute in the scenic trades was from twenty miles farther south, San Pedro-"Peedro" to locals. Linden's still a local there. He teaches at a working-class community college, which suits his Situationist-left politics just fine.
Politics lie at the base of Linden's artistic pyramid. But his prickly, contentious takes on bloviating warmongers, our "socialism-for-the-rich-free-enterprise-for-the-poor" way of running this society and a phosphorescently rotten commercial culture don't show up as self-righteous bumper stickers in his paintings. Instead, they've been morphed into a quietly angry abstraction that rather thumbs its nose at social ugliness instead of shouting at it. The layer above that base is composed of Linden's awareness of other art, different art. He's not one of those painters who has turned the wagons in a circle. Little bits of video, dance, performance and text float, deliberately half-hidden, in an emulsion of ongoing influence. Finally, at the top, is a poetic sensibility that Linden tries to flout rather than flaunt. If the work is going to mean anything, Linden has insisted by example for thirty years or more-if it's going to say anything about the problems of timely versus timeless, esoteric versus populist, and artistic hope versus cultural despair-it'll have to do it on its esthetic own, with no convenient props of symbolism. Ron Linden is a significant painter because he resists convenience and, sometimes, even himself. But integrity will out. In the end, Linden makes the difficulty of making the difficult look easy look easy.
Ron Linden gave up a tenured university teaching position in the Midwest in 1972 (he received an MFA in painting from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign seven years earlier) to live and work in Los Angeles. Although he did teach as a visiting artist at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles; the San Francisco Art Institute; Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA; University of California, Irvine, CA and elsewhere, Linden supported himself over the years as a union scenic artist in Los Angeles film and television studios. He was one of the first artists (along with Bruce Nauman, Richard Jackson, Peter Plagens, Karen Carson and others) to establish a practice in Pasadena's "Old Town," and later pioneered studios in downtown Los Angeles' Flower Market district and in the port district of San Pedro. For the past seven years Linden has taught and run a gallery program at Los Angeles Harbor College, Wilmington, CA, a community college with a largely working-class and minority student population. He has also been instrumental in San Pedro's recently rising art scene, directing and curating exhibitions for the Warschaw Gallery.
Although Linden's abstract painting utilizes, in unexpected and subtle ways, techniques acquired in his three decades working in the scenic industry, its deeper base is his ongoing interest in the philosophical conundrums of modern art, particularly as investigated by the Situationists in the 1970's. But his art remains very much "art," with centric shapes and forms, a predominantly gray palette that rarely warms beyond rust and ochre, and a journeyman's approach to drawing and paint application. Working with mixed materials, Linden's layered compositions strike an odd but convincing sense of balance and solidity.
Through his activities as an artist, teacher, curator and gallery director, Linden has achieved grassroots recognition among other artists. He has had recent solo exhibitions at Jancar Gallery, Los Angeles, CA and the short-lived Storage Gallery, Santa Monica, CA and participated in group exhibitions at the Riverside Art Museum, Riverside, CA; the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, CA and the Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, CA. The exhibition at CUE Art Foundation marks Linden's first solo exhibition in New York.
Peter Plagens is a painter who's shown with the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York City since 1974 and was also the staff art critic for Newsweek (1989-2003), where he is now Contributing Editor. He has received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Arts Journalism Program. His paintings were the subject of a retrospective first shown at the Fisher Gallery, University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA in 2004, then traveling to Columbia College of Art in Chicago, IL and The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, OH in 2005. Plagens is the author of two books of art criticism-Sunshine Muse: Art on the West Coast, 1945-70 (University of California Press, 2000) and Moonlight Blues: An Artist's Art Criticism (UMI Research Press, 1986)-as well as a novel, Time for Robo (Black Heron Press, 1999). He lives in New York City with his wife, the painter Laurie Fendrich.
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