Sunday, September 30, 2007

Jeff Soto at Jonathan Levine Gallery

Jeff Soto
"Hope Emerges From Behind A Storm Cloud"
Acrylic on wood
24 x 30 inches

Jonathan Levine Gallery
: The press release for Jeff Soto's solo exhibit, "Storm Clouds," speaks to popular misgivings about the state of things. "Soto explores his predominant fears and anxieties over his daughter's future, the civil war in Iraq, and the United States policies on environmental conservation." All well and good, yet I find myself asking if the artist's work communicates these ideas or if the release is merely an effort to lend Soto's cartoonish work gravitas?

Contemplating his paintings, environmental excesses, impending collapse, and enduring wars do not come to mind. Instead I'm more often moved to an exuberant giddiness. I smile wide and often. I feel good about Soto's healthy imagination and his sharing it with us. What I don't feel, however, is anxious; I do not brood. Even when Soto includes imagery of "death and decay" - oil clouds, fighter planes, pirate riggers, bombs - his stylized rendering and punch-out palette leave me feeling enlivened and upbeat.

Jeff Soto
Acrylic on wood
18 x 18 inches

Does this mean the work fails in its intention? I don't believe so. Quoted in the press release, Soto says, "I think we can make things better somehow." Soto's essential optimism is borne out in his work. If fear and anxiety motivate him in the studio, his process is alchemical; the paintings are full of frenzied joy and hope, both of which are much needed psychological commodities in our time.

Jeff Soto's exhibit, "Storm Clouds," is on view through October 6th, 2007. For more information, contact Jonathan Levine Gallery.

Photo credit: images courtesy Jonathan Levine Gallery

Editor's note: This write-up was originally slated to be published in a more high-profile publication, but was refused because of the Jonathan Levine Gallery's "no photo" policy. As an artist and art writer (and blogger and frequent picture taker), I sympathize with the position of the publication, and encourage all gallery directors to examine the "no photo" policy.


Michael said...

While I like the look of this work, I find it slightly irritating simply because of the ubiquity of this particular 'brand' of stylization. Block-shaped monsters with gangly legs... Round heads with big round eyes... Graphic elements mixed with immaculately rendered forms... Rainbows and cartoon clouds...
Don't get me wrong-- I like the work and think it's dandy. I just wish that it didn't feel so much like a part of a franchise.

Hungry Hyaena said...


Yes, I understand your reaction. I sometimes feel the same way.

On the west coast (though maybe not Seattle, where you are based), I think there is more of this type of painting in the galleries. Although "pop surrealism," as some folks dub it, is finally beginning to draw crowds in NYC, it is not commonly seen in Chelsea galleries.

More importantly, though, I think Soto's paintings feel "franchise" because the palette and figures owe so much to the palette and figuration of comic books and television. I used to find this more annoying than I do now. Maybe this is because I watch less TV and read fewer comic books than I used to?

Plus, hell, who's to say that an artist using the signs of the day isn't as valid as those convinced that they are "creating" the signs of what's to come?

Jonathan LeVine Gallery said...

Thank you for your review of STORM CLOUDS, we did enjoy reading your thoughtful critique and are glad to know you enjoyed the exhibit.

If I may, we would like to take this opportunity to comment here on the policy issue; as we did with fellow friend of ArtCal, Brent Burket, on his blog.


Speaking on behalf of the Jonathan LeVine Gallery, please be assured, our policy of "no photography" is only enforced to protect the rights of our artists and prevent unauthorized re-production of their copyrighted images. There is good reason for the signage, as this is actually something that has occurred here in the past. Although it is illegal, there have unfortunately been instances where previous visitors to our gallery have taken hi-res photographs with dishonest intentions, and have made unethical profit by selling fraudulent, digitally re-produced copies of paintings and prints online. We are still fighting these battles and it is a continuing problem, hence the signage. If there is a better alternative, we are open to hearing suggestions, but to us it seemed to be the only simple way to protect our artists without making visitors feel unwelcome.

We also wish to make clear that our policy is certainly not intended to deter media coverage in any way, and we have never prohibited photography when taken by members of the press. If approached by a journalist or blogger, we have always allowed photography when it is to be used for press purposes. So, if you are a member of the Press and wish to photograph, please do not hesitate to approach the gallery attendant. We also have a professional photographer shoot installation images of each piece in every exhibit, which are all available for anyone to view on our website. Additionally, we gladly provide these images to journalists and publications, upon request, with permission to use for press purposes.

I hope this statement sheds some light on our stance, and clears up any misconceptions about our policy. Many thanks to all members of the greater art community, for your interest, coverage, and support. We do appreciate the opportunity to comment on this matter in public forum.

Maléna Seldin

Jonathan LeVine Gallery
529 w 20th Street, 9flr
New York, NY 10011

Hungry Hyaena said...


I appreciate your defending the gallery's position here. Frankly, your stance makes sense, but I find fault with the basis for your reasoning, even though most dealers - whatever their policy on photography - stridently disagree with me.

As a proponent of Creative Commons and the wide dissemination of all creative product, I believe you are fighting a losing battle. If the "pirates," as they are popularly called, sell prints of your artists' work under your artists' names, the only loss is income. While it is a sad comment on the ethics of the person selling those unauthorized (likely poor) digital reproductions, the work is reaching a larger audience...communicating, which is the essential reason it exists (and was created). If both the gallery and the artist are profiting from sales of the original works, why pour so much energy into pursuing the "pirates"?

Furthermore, my politics and ideology aside, most of the people who take photographs while visiting the gallery space are going to use the photos for personal use only - desktop backgrounds, Flickr groups, and the like - and are likely taking photos because they appreciate the artwork. That any artist could have a problem with that strikes me at the very least as unusual, and maybe even wrong-headed.

Anonymous said...

i've gone into jonathan levine and asked to take pics politely and they've never given me a problem. i always assumed the signs were there to deter the would be abuser.

Mark said...

jeff soto is perfect. unpleasant dark comic 50's modern expression of perfect world post-pop symbolism. but really, he's better than that.

thelamest(dot)com said...

Always loving seeing new Soto creations! Jeff is easily my favorite "low brow" artist. His work looks like a franchise because so many artists are derivitive of his style.