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Kim Dingle's fifth solo exhibition at Sperone Westwater opens in New York
Second floor installation view.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sperone Westwater opened Kim Dingle’s fifth solo exhibition at the gallery, centering on an ambitious series of new grisaille paintings. Selected vintage works will situate these in the broader context of Dingle’s practice. Often depicting little girls in stereotypically gendered attire, Dingle’s work first attracted widespread critical attention for its trenchant portrayal of gender roles and its frank treatment of the ambiguous and occasionally monstrous psychological states associated with childhood. As Peter Schjeldahl wrote in 1995, “Dingle is a bard of a certain American epic, that of conscience and its lack: the majesty and misery of too stern a moral standard and the glee and fear of too unbuttoned an amorality.”

Dingle’s work pivots sharply on the contrast between the prim children she depicts and the unruly, adult behavior in which they engage. The artist’s longstanding alter ego, a chubby, frocked every-girl called Priss, appears by turns demure and ferocious in these works. In a large painting from 1993, a white toddler with pink-tinged skin enacts startling violence on two puppies. A projected outline behind conjures de Kooning in its stereotype of threatening femininity. In a freestanding work from 1994-95, Priss takes the form of an alert black toddler poised upright in her crib, neither complacent nor outright aggressive. Like all Dingle’s characters, Priss manifests a vigorous self-possession not popularly associated with children. Priss is an imaginative, even empathetic, vehicle for self-portraiture, whether of Dingle herself or in the guise of her partner, the Haitian-born Aude Charles. Dingle is highly sensitive to the potential political ramifications of these works, which over the years have depicted black and white children together in scenes alternatingly utopian and lawless. For the artist, the formal possibilities engendered by black and white are indistinguishable from their broader connotations. “There’s more pain and more interest [in using black and white] because we Americans are…obsessed with race,” Dingle claims, noting that these black and white mannequins alike are cast from the same mold. With their absurd yet psychologically plausible scenarios, these works summon the violence implicit in the popular mythology of American childhood. They testify to the difficulty of representing the complex and contradictory emotions universal to the experience of childhood, regardless of race, and to the identity-riven world children grow to inhabit.

Gleefully anarchic yet implicitly moral, the children in Dingle’s work speak to this country’s Puritan sensibilities, as evident now as when Schjeldahl wrote. Over her career, Dingle has presented work ranging from painting to expansive installation—at the 2000 Whitney Biennial she exhibited a car gussied up in lacy Sunday best—but the image of the misbehaving girl has remained a linchpin of her practice. Indeed, Dingle’s exploration of the subject has been so exhaustive that she recently exclaimed that she could paint these works blindfolded. And so she did, relying on muscle memory and intuition, often filming herself in the process. The resulting works are looser, highly gestural and graphic, yet cohere into instinctively familiar form. In each a scaffolding of black is overlaid haphazardly with ghostly white and pale color. They retain the stereotypical trappings of American childhood: dogs, horses, toys, planes, cars.

Also on view are works from Dingle’s early-1990s series of “coffee-table paintings.” Painted on matter-of-fact, glass-fronted wood blocks and stacked on tables, these artworks “have the thingness of books,” as Dingle puts it, and appeal to the viewer’s curiosity. Their wide-ranging subject matter takes in familiar childhood topics—dogs, maps, notations and doodles, playful abstractions—and gives the impression of the artist as a collector of ideas and motives. Prompted by the visual rhyme between these objects, Dingle has invited the elusive California artist Adam Whitecash to show a major recent work alongside her own. Channeling an offhand, impressionistic abstraction, this 98-part grid comprises framed paint palettes which are both process and result. Projecting off the wall to varying degrees—“like a pipe organ,” says Whitecash—they are equal parts earnest and ironic. To Dingle’s amusement, they bear an accidental resemblance to the recently voguish and market-friendly “white male” abstract painting commonly called “zombie formalism.” The dialogue between the two artists’ work echoes that already present within Dingle’s own practice, gently deflating our assumptions about painting, gender, and greatness.

Born in 1951 in Pomona, California, Kim Dingle lives and works in Los Angeles. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from California State University, Los Angeles (1988) and a Master of Fine Arts from Claremont Graduate School (1990). Dingle was included in the 2000 Whitney Biennial, and her work appeared in the major group exhibition “Sunshine and Noir: Art in L.A., 1960-1997,” at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek (1997), which traveled to several institutions in Europe and the United States. In 2000, Dingle took an unintentional hiatus from painting when she opened a restaurant in the middle of her studio called Fatty’s & Co., a successful vegetarian restaurant in Los Angeles, which she sold in 2013. Recently, she opened a Wine Bar for Children at Coagula Curatorial, Los Angeles (2013-2014) (and was never arrested), and had a solo exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects (2017). Among public collections owning her work are the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Seattle Museum of Contemporary Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Dingle had her first solo show at Sperone Westwater in 1998 and subsequent exhibitions in 2000, 2007, and 2012.

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