Tim Wilson PG-13 at Schroeder Romero
In his first New York solo appearance, Tim Wilson shows a staid group of paintings that attempt to turn the cast-off plastic figurines of childhood playtime into a meditation on nostalgia and the ways in which personal recollection interacts with greater cultural memory. This is undoubtedly rich territory, but the work is limited by the technically narrow way in which the artist seems willing to conceive of painting. Wilson is right to insist on cinema as a locus for this kind of interaction, yet he does so on only the most general level.
Each painting begins as a carefully constructed tableau of well-worn figurines that the artist collects from a variety of sources. The scene is meticulously lighted and photographed, and the resulting image is then rather deftly copied onto canvas in oil paint. Wilson’s surfaces are completely flat and shiny, barely present. The variety of materials pictured, from the hard plastic of the dolls to the rubber of what appear to be baby-bottle nipples, are collapsed completely into the image. This subordination of surface is appropriate for paintings that may be trying to engage the omniscience of the photographic–and by extension, the cinematic–representation.
But Wilson is in a tough spot. With few exceptions, the subject matter that he has chosen to explore is as tired and well-worn as most of the dolls that people his scenes. In places, he flimsily tries to update this child-worth with the oft-used hints of sexual content. After the brief thrill of his academic mastery wears off, it is difficult not to wonder if this very technical skill is getting in Wilson’s way, allowing him to be easily impressed with his results. This is suggested by the oldest piece in the show, hidden slightly around the corner, in which no paint is used; it is unquestionably the most interesting piece. The color-copied image is broken into 624 smaller planes, each the size of a trading card. Appropriately, these smaller units are sealed into the protective sleeves that any boy who collected baseball cards will instantly recognize. They are then installed on the wall, reconstituting the image. This picture is fractured as the “cards” are sold for $20 a piece, engaging questions of private connoisseurship in the wider, populist context of mass-market cultural production. In contrast, the paintings content themselves with being, at best, only tangentially related to these interesting themes.
IIf he hasn’t already, Wilson should stop by Mary Boone and ask to view some of those Will Cotton paintings of syrupy candylands to see the dreadful road he’s headed down. We have reason to hope that the paintings in PG-13 are a brief detour, a wrong turn.