For someone of my generation the first encounter with Elizabeth Peyton’s wispy little portraits of celebrities provoked a sense of outrage: how could this possibly be serious art? I should have learnt by then that any new work which stops you in your tracks is more than likely to prove important.
Her Self Portrait Live to Ride (EP) was on the poster for the Whitney Biennale in 2004. Peter Schjeldahl called her paintings the ‘moral centre of the show’. At the time I was baffled but in retrospect can see that he was right- in the sense that her little paintings had a rare sweetness and sense of conviction – we believed that her world was real to her. And it also earned its place in the history books as it was part of the arrival of PostModernism.
But this conviction has all but ebbed away in her new paintings. To some extent this is compensated by an increase in technical skill but they are mostly lacking in charm. There are several heavy handed versions of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star is Born.
The most alive and charismatic face is that of Greta Thunberg, who is certainly an impressive person, but does not come across as especially vivacious.
This is rather an odd little show. I left feeling disappointed and slightly deflated. But you may well have an entirely different experience, I would be so pleased if you would leave a comment.
Elizabeth Peyton is at Sadie Coles, 1 Davies Street, London W1K 3DB until 15 June.