Culture Watch: 'Lari Pittman' by Robert Storr, Wayne Koestenbaum, Helen Molesworth and Lisa Phillips
(Skira Rizzoli, $75)
I saw the figure five in taupe, and it was on the cover of the new Skira Rizzoli monograph of L.A. painter Lari Pittman.
The detail of an untitled 2007 painting trades in the golden hue of a famous visionary painting by Charles Demuth, based on William Carlos Williams' poem, "I Saw the Figure Five in Gold." The medallion-like Cubist forms Demuth rendered in 1928 arose from a verse the poet wrote after watching a fire engine roar by on a rainy street as he waited for his friend, painter Marsden Hartley. Pittman trades in the gilded, industrial Modernist flash of Demuth and Hartley, gay icons of American painting, for a decorator neutral known to go with everything -- in this case royal purple and acidic green.
Which isn't to say Pittman's paintings, with their raucous color schemes and fecund imagery, are tame. Far from it, as the volume's more than 200 sumptuous color plates show. But they do insist on making room for sensibilities long shunted to the margins -- yet fundamental to our time, as an eloquent essay by poet Wayne Koestenbaum attests.
-- Christopher Knight