Mary Boone Gallery
541 West 24th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Saturday through April 27, free
Every time Andrew Masullo starts a new painting, he has no idea how it will turn out. The New Jersey-born-and-raised artist, who spent much of his career in New York City before moving to San Francisco in 2005, doesn’t preplan what shapes and colors he will use on generally smaller-size canvases, just letting the creative process flow out of him. Sometimes it takes a few months to complete a work, and sometimes many years, and even then he might decide at the last minute that the painting looks better upside down or sideways. (He did go through a brief period in which he employed a paint-by-numbers system.) Last year Masullo scored a unique triple play, being included in the 2012 Whitney Biennial — something that was extra satisfying given that he had been fired from an administrative job at the institution three decades earlier — as well as Pulse and Volta. Masullo currently has a sparkling show up at Mary Boone, where dozens of his nonobjective works are grouped on the walls, from a collection of colorful canvases arranged around one corner to a series of eight small pieces lined up in a horizontal row, almost military-style. Primarily featuring straight-from-the-tube colors in geometric patterns that play with negative space, the paintings are extremely pleasing to experience, like eye candy for the heart and soul. The exhibit was organized in conjunction with his regular New York gallery, Feature Inc., which is run by the single-named Hudson, and continues through April 27. Masullo, who has quite a sly sense of humor, recently discussed the show and more from his home in San Francisco.
twi-ny: You are undergoing a major resurgence of late, being singled out last year at the Whitney Biennial, Volta, and Pulse, and now you have a big solo show at Mary Boone. Has this sudden burst of attention surprised you?
Andrew Masullo: A resurgence is about the career, which is very different from the work itself. That kind of hoopla doesn’t help me make the next painting so I don’t pay it too much attention.
twi-ny: What was it like being asked to participate in the Whitney Biennial after having been fired from the Whitney many years before?
Andrew Masullo: My reaction to being included in the Biennial was amazement mixed with an equal portion of “it’s about damned time.”
twi-ny: You let your paintings develop on their own, without preconceived notions of size, color, or shape of image. What about the process of hanging your work, specifically for the Mary Boone show? Is there a similar randomness, or is it much more carefully planned and organized? The canvases, especially the eight small pieces along one wall, really seem to work in the cavernous space.
Andrew Masullo: The hanging was both planned out ahead of time (the sparer walls) and figured out on the spot (the more complicated walls) and it was mostly Hudson’s baby. I was the splinter in the kitty’s paw, complaining when something didn’t feel right, moving a few pictures from here to there, until the installation sounded like a Handel aria (harpsichord and all).
twi-ny: You like to work while listening to classical music and watching television. What composers and TV shows were you checking out while creating the work on view at Mary Boone?
Andrew Masullo: While I was making the paintings? I never listen to classical music while painting but it doesn’t mean that it's not swimming around inside me. Mozart and Berg hold special places in my heart but for the past few years I’ve listened mostly to Handel’s operas and oratorios (I swear I have been, or will be, a countertenor in some past or future life).
I paint listening to either news shows or junk shows and not much in between.
twi-ny: You’ve cited Joseph Cornell, Florine Stettheimer, Forrest Bess, Augusto Giacometti, and Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart as some of your favorite artists. Are there any current, living artists that get you excited?
Andrew Masullo: Franz West, but he died.
twi-ny: You were born and raised in New Jersey, went to school at Rutgers, and were part of the downtown New York City art scene of the 1980s, but in the early 2000s you moved out to San Francisco. Do you miss living on the East Coast? Throughout your career, how do you think your surroundings affected your work?
Andrew Masullo: I’m a New York painter through and through. New York City was my classroom for over two decades — the people, the streets, the galleries, the museums. I sucked as much juice out of New York as possible. When it became clear that the tables had turned and New York was sucking the juice out of me, I vamoosed to San Francisco. Without having thrown myself into the madhouse that is New York City, I would have never learned to paint. There would have been no me.
twi-ny: Your alma mater, Rutgers, is currently immersed in a scandal involving mental and physical abuse of the basketball players by the coaches. Have you been following that? Not to belittle that serious situation, but have you ever had art teachers who were particularly tough on you?
Andrew Masullo: I’m not following the Rutgers story. As for my own days at Rutgers, there’s only one tragic-filled event I can think of. One semester I received a B in painting class while Martha, a well-intentioned but untalented student, received an A. When I asked for an explanation the teacher told me that Martha had lived up to her full potential, whereas I had not. I knew in my heart the teacher was right. It’s a lesson I still carry with me.