Cole Sternberg: "I was here for just a moment" at David B. Smith Gallery

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the radio voice’s view
2011
Cole Sternberg
ink, spray paint and acrylic on linen
52″ x 72″
Photo: courtesy David B. Smith Gallery

Conceptual art was the big news at the end of the last century, and also at the beginning of this one. When it comes to painting, the main conceptual current has been Realism coming out of Pop art, which has dominated American, European and especially Asian art for decades, but now it seems there’s an up-and-coming alternative in the form of abstraction with a conceptual twist that’s being created by a new generation of painters. Evidence of this trend was clearly presented in a beautifully installed show, “I was here for just a moment,” made up of a set of post-abstract expressionist paintings that were on view at the David B. Smith Gallery. The paintings are the work of a young-ish LA hotshot, Cole Sternberg, who’s been making a name for himself with works that, despite drawing on a wide range of sources, come out fairly coherent and unified.

The most obvious influence for these paintings is Abstract Expressionism, the standard bearer for American painting. Like the AbEx-ers of a half century ago, Sternberg smears, brushes, rubs, scraps, pours, drips and sprays paint onto the surfaces, in his case resulting in paintings having over-lapping all-over color fields. Underneath these fields, in many of these paintings, there is a ground covered with cursive writing. This inclusion marks Sternberg’s essential break with Abstract Expressionism, and that’s what makes his work more Post than Neo. The cursive writing indicates two different references that Sternberg has stacked on the abstract expressionist one. The words themselves come out of high tech sources, like Tweets or from the Internet, while the translation of them into cursive handwriting suggests an origin in graffiti, as do the errant words and lines that are appended on the surfaces of the color fields. Speaking of surfaces, Sternberg’s are very lively, with all the different action-painting techniques on display. And the way those color fields float over the grounds that are covered with words is remarkable because, in this illusion, Sternberg is using flat planes to suggest three-dimensional space. The colors Sternberg employs are also worth noting and in looking at a range of his paintings it’s apparent that he has a keen eye for conjuring up stunning palettes.

Some in the art world have been trying to bury abstraction for decades, but younger artists like Sternberg–and others of his generation–will just not cooperate.