Tom Marioni, one of the Left Coast’s leading conceptualists, wrote in his 2004 autobiography, Beer, Art and Philosophy, that conceptual art can be many things, but painting wasn't one of them. As a medium it was, according to the argument circulating in the 1960s, irrelevant. So why, at age 77, has he started painting? The answer: He hasn’t. But the pretense of doing so is a good shtick. The show, called Retire from Art and Take up Painting, consists of replicas of modernism from Matisse to Mary Heilmann. It focuses on artists who, like Marioni, hit their stride in the 1960s: Warhol, Lichtenstein, LeWitt, Ruscha and Stella, but also includes others who came earlier: Duchamp, Picasso, Albers, and Pollock.
camera-less image made from placing objects on light-sensitive paper, Marioni strips of luminosity, turning out a drippy gray-on-black blob, reminiscent something Luc Tuymans might do. The most true-to-life copies are those from Warhol, LeWitt, Stella and Ruscha, some of the least painterly artists of the 20th century.
Those ideas still resonate. Anthony Discenza’s A Sculpture (Reclining Figure), shown last year at Catharine Clark, for example, consisted of a blank canvas on the floor accompanied by a soundtrack of formalist docent speak in which words, not physical marks, conjured images, underscoring conceptual art’s premise, that ideas, not their physical manifestations, matter most. Strangely, in this show, I get the distinct impression that Marioni, could, if he so desired, have become a successful painter. His homage/parodies may be ham-fisted, and intentionally so, but they reveal no shortage of skill, spread as it is across many styles.