Jennie Ottinger: Members Only


Jennie Ottinger: Members Only

By Kara Q. Smith September 11, 2013

Pepto-Bismol-pink and Crayola-green hues pop throughout Jennie Ottinger’s paintings in her current exhibition at Johansson Projects, Members Only. Portraying recognizable settings—church services, tennis matches, and a kids’ camp—each work is composed of unconventional coloration and gibbous brushstrokes. In Congregation Week 1 (2013) and Congregation Week 2 (2013), indeterminate bodies face forward from their church pews. Each cohort gazes toward the viewer with expressionless disregard and nonchalance. Similarly, the youthful figures gathered on the beach in Sitting All Together (2013) or those standing around a pond-like form in Welcoming Committee (2013) appear to be despondent and unresponsive to any newcomers; they are distanced from the sense of community that enriches the human experience. Subverting the viewer’s expectations of these mundane scenes by using unexpected pigments and sketchy, mutant-like figures, Ottinger comes as close as possible to a faithful representation of suburban ennui.

Jennie Ottinger. There's A Man in Here, 2013; oil on panel. Courtesy of the Artist and Johansson Projects, Oakland.  

As children, and well into our teenage years, some of us experienced a desperate fear of going to the bathroom during various communal activities or Sunday services, fearing that the breaking of routine would invite the congregation’s scrutiny. Refreshingly for us, one could run around naked in front of Ottinger’s cast and their blank expressions would remain unperturbed. The provincial trappings of community, generally characterized by kinship and benevolence, are here rendered mechanical and anonymous. This makes sense: community is performed, after all, and based on reciprocity and participation. Ottinger raises questions about how community is built and practiced, rightly indicating that there are often underlying narratives that cannot easily be defined and that may not appeal to everybody.

Jennie Ottinger. Congregation Week 1, 2013; oil on panel. Courtesy of the Artist and Johansson Projects, Oakland.  

The painting with the fewest figures is intriguing. There's A Man Here (2013) depicts a very pink interior (a sorority house?) with a wash of green across the bottom half of the panel, presumably representing a carpet. On the left, through a doorway, a figure stands in his underwear. If not for the work’s title, one might fairly assume the figure was in his home; instead, viewers may cast him as an imposter. As a whole, Members Only presents the social dynamic of groups as stifling and trivial and devoid of the comfort and security one might glean from such affiliation. Yet, somehow, Ottinger’s paintings also achieve a sense of nostalgia, as well as authenticity, for loners and conformers alike.

Members Only is on view at Johansson Projects, in


, through September 20, 2013.

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