Neil Jenney, Ozarkia, 2014, oil on canvas in artist's frame, 28 × 64 × 3 3/8 inches (71.1 × 162.6 × 8.6 cm) © Neil Jenney.
Neil Jenney's distinctive art emerged in the late 1960s in direct response to the dominance of Minimalism and Photorealism. Working first as an abstract painter, then as a sculptor evincing form through the use of attenuated line, he developed a purposefully rough, gestural painting style in works that came to be known as “bad painting,” inspiring the polemical group exhibition “Bad Painting” at the New Museum in 1978. Considering himself to be a realist painter and having a style operating not only as a set of aesthetic principles but also as a personal philosophical dictum, Jenney sought to forge a new type of realism in which narrative truth could be indicated by the simple fact of proximate relations, such as Husband and Wife, Girl and Doll, or Them and Us (all 1969).
In the 1970s, Jenney decided to take up the opposite challenge, and began producing studies of the natural world that he called “good painting.” With titles such as North American Vegetae (2006–07), North American Aquatica (2006), and North America Depicted (2011–12), the Good Paintings treat ecological issues pertaining to the native North American landscape with a sense of subjectivity that verges on mythological. Crafted in layers of oil paint on board, these paintings provide a solution to the mechanical perfection and emotional indifference of Photorealism, while remaining exacting in their representation. Atmospheric (Impressionist) color and refined classical lines combine to produce landscapes that are almost hallucinatory in their attention to detail. Encased in hyperbolic wooden picture frames with bold typographic titles at the lower or side edge, the paintings are windows onto meta-realities. At the same time, their blatant framing ensures a distinct separation from the illusory world; they are as sculptural as they are painterly. Evoking the Luminist and the Hudson River School painters of the mid-nineteenth century, the Good Paintings convey the temporal coexistence of their subjects in both the real and the imagined world.
Neil Jenney was born in 1945 in Torrington, Connecticut. His work has been included in numerous group exhibitions worldwide, including “MoMA2000, Making Choices: War,” Museum of Modern Art, New York (2000); “Conversations,” Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2002); “Facing Reality: The Seavest Collection of Contemporary Realism,” Neuberger Museum of Art, New York (2003); “Undiscovered Country,” Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2004–05); “Selections from the Collection of Edward R. Broida,” National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (2006); “Serralves Foundation Collection—Sculpture,” Museu Serralves Contemporânea, Portugal (2007–08); “Bad Painting: Good Art,” Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig (mumok), Vienna (2008); “In A Room Anything Can Happen,” Center for Curatorial Studies, Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College, New York (2009); “Legacy: The Emily Fisher Landau Collection,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2011, traveled to Norton Museum of Art, Florida; Joslyn Art Museum, Nevada; and Grand Rapids Art Museum, Colorado, through 2014); and “Visual Conversations: Selections from the Collection,” Fisher Landau Center for Art, New York (2012). Recent solo museum exhibitions include “Paintings and Sculpture 1967–1980,” University of California Art Museum, Berkeley (1981, traveled to Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Louisiana Museum, Denmark; and Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland); “Collection in Context—Neil Jenney: Natural Rationalism,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1994); and “North America,” Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Connecticut (2007).
Jenney currently lives and works in New York.