Desaturation seemed to be the theme of most of the shows I saw in Chelsea yesterday: many grayish paintings and photos without a lot of color. Although that might be a fit for the middle of the winter, it was a sunny enough day that I was really more in the mood to see some brightness (especially since, on the train ride into the city, I had been reading an excellent technical piece on the subtleties of color by Sarah Sands at Golden).
In the Mostly Monochrome show at McKenzie, I did enjoy the black painting, “Churning Sea, A Moment Later” by Karen Gunderson. The brushy, black oil paint catches the light differently depending upon your viewing angle and makes for a perceptually interesting work. It does indeed feel like you’re looking at the sea under moonlight, with things shifting as you move left or right by a few inches. The overall technique reminded me of a Jason Martin painting that I saw at The Armory Show a couple of years ago.
At Pace Wildenstein, Richard Misrach exhibits large photographic prints that resemble color film negatives, though in fact the artist is using a digital camera for the image capture and “inverting” the image on the computer. There’s more to the show, though, than just this particular trick. In addition to the interesting optics, these works can act like puzzles as you try to do the inversion in your head to figure out what it is that you might be looking at. For instance, what looks in the negative like huge icebergs jutting out of the water, you realize, must actually be dark silhouetted rock formations on land. Some of the images read like abstract expressionist paintings but are actually carefully composed or cropped landscape photos.
There’s a similar sort of perceptual ambiguity occurring at Luhring Augustine in the paintings of William Daniels. I put this show on my list of “things-to-see” while browsing one of my art magazines, but from the advertisement I had assumed that these would be huge, wall-sized paintings. Instead, the paintings in this show are approximately 12 inches square. At first, it appears that they are purely abstract images but then your eyes start to put together the scene and you notice that there is a certain volume to the shapes; objects are casting shadows… and reflections. I then realized that in fact Daniels was painting images from “reflective foil”, crumpled and sculpted into a sort of still life (or landscape?). There’s a sort of satisfaction that occurs as your eye scans the work and puts it all together in your head.
I found some more color at Von Lintel (on 23rd St) in some striking images by David Maisel, whose past work has featured various takes on aerial photography. His current series, “Library of Dust”, could be described as a “still life portrait”. The photographs are of decaying copper canisters on black backgrounds where oxidation and other chemical reactions over the ages have turned the copper into colorful messes. The press release tells us, though, that these cans contained the unclaimed ashes of a psychiatric asylum’s former patients. This causes you to immediately re-evaluate your feelings about what you’re looking at, from levity at all the pretty colors to a somber recognition that you’re witnessing a kind of “death mask” for someone’s uncomfortable coffin.
The one other show that I’ll mention is Salvatore Federico’s at George Billis Gallery. My first thought as I entered the gallery was that Von Lintel had moved back into the space! These are hard edge, geometrical color paintings that are quite enjoyable but very different from most of the other work I’ve seen at this gallery, which mostly has a roster of representational painters. Several of the works in the show feature a single complex polygon balancing on a sharp point at the very bottom edge of the canvas. Others are more explicitly grid-based with multiple figures interlocking in a kind of Matisse-like compositional dance.
Although this was a briefer-than-usual trip to Chelsea for me (I ran out of steam on 23rd Street), I did go home feeling energized and ready to do some painting. (In fact, I’ve finished quite a few paintings recently but have been slow to photograph them… Expect to see some of them here on my blog soon.)