Neil Jenney: Bad Paintings

9 June - 2 September 2023

Neil Jenney, born 1945 in Torrington, Connectictut is a contemporary American artist and representative of New Realism painting. He attended Massachusetts College of Art in 1964 and moved to New York City two years later.

This solo exhibition showcases ten paintings from the artist’s self-procaimed Bad Years period 1969-1972, during which time he created the most celebrated and institutionally recognized output. The works are evocative of Jenney’s bold and expressionist response to Minimalism, Fotorealism and Pop Art. The term comes from Marcia Tucker’s 1978 curation of a group exhibition entitled Bad Painting at the New Contemporary Museum of Art, New York, a show of so-called “bad” paintings and drawings by fourteen artists who rejected the traditional concepts of draftsmanship in favor of personal styles of figuration, which included the work of Jenney and his contemporaries. Tucker meant her title to be ironic: the work was not actually “bad”, but rather defiant. Opposed to intricate and finished surfaces, this body of work was iconoclastic in its boldly nonchalant approach to representation and its interrogation of prevailing norms of skills, technique and finish. When first shown in the late seventies, these early paintings were read as self-consciously clever deconstructions of painting as painting, and painting as cultural artifact.
Jenney divides his Bad Paintings into two groups. In the first, executed in his “unconcerned style”, the handling was deliberately nonchalant, a faux primitivizing in which he schematically etched his objects into rapidly brushed grounds made from large, runny, loose strokes as in Dog and Boy. In the process, he avoids narrative in favour of juxtapositions of interrelated elements – couplings, pairings, dichotomies, which means for Jenney a form of realism in itself. The other group he called the “sophisticated style” in which he drew the two-part motifs, first captured repeatedly in sketchbooks, onto the canvas with a pencil. They also contain a horizon line – as seen in Man and Task – whereas previously they were embedded in a tilted picture plane.
The titles are an integral part of these works, rather than mere appendages. For Jenney, these juxtapositions of word and image point to the paradox of the content of the image, to its susceptibility to different interpretative decodings: He sets up a wide variety of types of relationships; ranging from antagonistic to causal to dependent to circumstantial. Consequently, for Jenney, realism lies in the higher analysis of relationships.
Neil Jenney lives and works in New York.
His works belong to important institutional collections such as Museum of Modern Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Whitney Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Broad Museum, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington; and private collections such as Goetz Collection, Munich; Hall Art Foundation, Reading and Hoffmann-La Roche Art Collection, Basel.
With the kind support and lending of Hall Art Foundation and we would like to thank Ricardo Kugelmas, the artist Neil Jenney and Emma Jenney.