Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s

Solo en Inglès

David Salle, Sextant in Dogtown, 1987. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 96 3/16 × 126 1/4in. (244.3 × 320.7 cm). 99 1/8 × 129 3/8in. (251.8 × 328.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee 88.8a-e Art © David Salle, Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Jane Panetta: This painting, called Sextant in Dogtown, is by artist David Salle. Although it seems to be telling a story, one would be hard-pressed to say exactly what the artist is trying to communicate. He presents us with an odd assortment of seemingly unrelated images: a woman performing a bizarre striptease act, a couple of nasty-looking clowns, and a strange figure operating an old-fashioned sea navigation device called a sextant. Salle’s images come from a variety of sources including magazines, photographs, and pornography. Salle puts these images together in a painting the way another artist might create a collage using scraps of paper. Each of these fragments brings with it a series of associations and meanings. 

Salle began making paintings in the late 1970s, when painting itself was considered by many to be passé. When his work was first shown, it generated controversy. What seems clear now is that it captures a particular cultural moment, and comments on the media-saturation and consumerism of the Reagan era.