Art review: Dan McCleary at Craig Krull Gallery


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‘Panel Discussion,’ a monumental new painting by Dan McCleary that is the centerpiece of his show at Craig Krull Gallery, takes its title two ways. The silent reverberation between them dazzles.

On one hand, the painting depicts a familiar academic or business event, when a group of specialists gathers in a formal setting before a curious audience to hash out aspects of a complex subject. Behind a long table covered in a pristine white cloth, McCleary sets two young men on each side of an androgynous young woman, who is apparently the panel discussion’s moderator. The five panelists are precisely captured in moments of focused preparation.


At the left, a man with pencil poised on paper looks up, lost in thought. Next to him a second man turns away from his open laptop computer, as if in anticipation of the discussion’s imminent commencement.

Then comes the moderator, who seems to be concentrating on her thoughts. To the right, a man reviews a document inside a manila folder. And next to him, at the right end of the table, the final panelist scowls slightly as a man standing behind him fumbles with what appears to be a lavalier microphone attached to his lapel.

McCleary’s detailed powers of observation are impressive but not flashy. A general simplification of form keeps the scene from distracting fussiness, so that a clarity of vision prevails. The painting’s palette is heavy on neutrals -- especially a range of whites and grays -- which lends a quiet gravity to an otherwise mundane scene.

The neutrals also make McCleary’s flashes of color even more intensely absorbing than they otherwise might be. Those bits of color consecrate the most commonplace elements: the crimson stripe of a plastic coffee stirrer, the yellow-gold speck of an earring, the deep purple line of shadow running beneath the edge of a pink lid on a pastry box, the multicolored reflections in a silver water pitcher and more.

In fact, the colored shadows cast by Styrofoam coffee cups, the manila folder, shirt collars and such are among the painting’s loveliest passages. Quiet descendants of more vibrant techniques employed by Pop painters such as David Hockney, Audrey Flack or Wayne Thiebaud, they unfold slowly as one scans the 13½-foot-wide, 6½-foot-high painting. Gentle rainbows bloom, not unlike the small bunches of flowers in a pair of white vases that add spare table ornamentation.

The painting’s composition obviously derives from Renaissance frescoes that depict the Last Supper. Piero della Francesca has been one inspiration for McCleary’s past work, but ‘Panel Discussion’ owes a lot to Andrea del Sarto’s early-16th century version of Jesus’ final meal, in which the mystery of the Eucharist was presented to his disciples and which Andrea painted on the refectory wall of a monastery and convent in Florence.


McCleary’s subject is secular, not religious, not least because a woman occupies the central position. (It’s tempting to wonder whether the small gold pendant on a chain around her neck alludes to a religious medallion.) McCleary has carefully isolated each individual in the composition, mostly framing them through simple architectural means. But the communion getting underway in ‘Panel Discussion’ is nonetheless spiritual, with fellowship and human intercourse anointed by the picture.

Renaissance Last Suppers were painted for dining halls in order to reflect the common activity underway in both the picture and the room, strengthening the bond between them; something similar is at work in McCleary’s art. Here, the ‘Panel Discussion’ reflects the activity in the gallery, as a viewer engages in consideration of the painted ‘panel’ laid out before him.

The lips of all six figures in the picture are sealed, but the painting and its audience certainly speak to one another. The art experience is ordained.

The show also includes six oil and six pencil studies for ‘Panel Discussion,’ and they handsomely articulate McCleary’s working method. Five exquisite floral studies -- three oils and two etchings -- of modest size but bold appeal further amplify his outsized gifts.

Craig Krull Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 828-6410, through April 2. Closed Sunday and Monday. ALSO:

Art review: ‘William Leavitt: Theater Objects’ at MOCA

Art review: ‘Gods of Angkor’ at the Getty

Art review: ‘Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman’ at the San Diego Museum of Art

-- Christopher Knight