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Ugly Is In

Art & Design

Crazy Colorful

Forget dreamy, attractive landscapes, delicately rendered still lifes, and vibrant expressionist masterworks. Ugly painting is in these days—the bolder, the better. If that sounds scary to you aesthetes out there, never fear: we’re talking about fun, relatable, and subversive works that challenge your idea of what a painting can do.

In this vein, Los Angeles–based artist Laura Owens’s show at the Whitney Museum is a revelation. Her weird, wonderful paintings incorporate kitschy motifs, blotchy graphics reminiscent of 1990s advertising, and simple seagulls with even simpler, minimal shadows. In one untitled painting from 1995, Owens sketches a vast gallery floor, adjacent to a green back wall covered in small artworks. It’s a major shift in perspective from what you’d normally expect—an emphasis on the artworks themselves, not the ground beneath them. Like the rest of the show collectively, this piece offers an unexpected, sidelong glance at what art is and can be.