Muscular Paper


David Salle

Cri_151300 Zoom

Muscular Paper

David Salle. Muscular Paper. 1985. Oil, synthetic polymer paint, and charcoal on canvas and fabric, with painted wood, in three parts, Overall 8' 2 1/8" x 15' 7 1/8" (249.3 x 475 cm). Gift of Douglas S. Cramer Foundation. © 2014 David Salle

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 42

Salle's diptychs and triptychs of the 1980s brought figurative painting back to the forefront of artistic practice, challenging the dominance of abstraction and sculpture secured by the previous generation. But despite the narrative possibilities for figuration and the heroic implications of Salle's large-scale formats, his paintings frustrate expectations for coherent meaning or grand gesture.

Salle incorporates imagery from art history, the popular press, and pornography into his work in a personal articulation of the postmodern technique of pastiche. The left panel of Muscular Paper depicts a photograph by Brassaï of Pablo Picasso’s 1931 sculpture Bather. The center panel includes a doubled likeness of a head from the painting The Club-Footed Boy (1642) by Jusepe de Ribera, and the right panel replicates a bridge from a print by the German Expressionist artist Max Beckmann. Superimposed on these explicit references are nonspecific and seemingly unrelated images and patterns, which compete for prominence and suggest multiple and shifting meanings. Salle has claimed independence for his art from the system of logic that governs the real: "I do think that there are things that exist in the world that relate to one another. And then there are things in my paintings that relate to one another. And I think what matters to me is that these are not the same."

Audio Program excerpt


Director, Glenn Lowry: The work of artist David Salle incorporates imagery from art history, the popular press, and pornography, among other sources. Muscular Paper is one of many triptychs that he painted in the 1980s.

Artist, David Salle: Each panel has a distinct surface and texture and luminosity and the combination of those differences, edge to edge, creates intervals and it is the intervals that your eye confronts and has to jump over that creates the specific tone of the painting.

Glenn Lowry: The panels depict works by other artists including Brassais photograph of a Picasso sculpture on the left panel; two faces from a Jusepe de Ribera painting in the center, and the image of a bridge by Max Beckmann superimposed on the right panel. The others are of Salles own invention.

David Salle: The superimposed image in the middle orange panel was a lemon squeezer made out of wood that some wood carver made using a pocket knife that was in a house I rented one summer, ages ago, and it was such a eccentrically formed and shaped and weirdly purposed object that I thought it was interesting to paint it. And by enlarging it to this scale, it totally loses any sense of its identity.

Glenn Lowry: The way in which he combines images has led some to question whether there is a connection among them.

David Salle: Theres been much made about this, is there a connection or is there no connection? For some reason the question strikes me as a very humorous one, as if there could be no connection. The painting is the connection.