Everyday Abstract -- Abstract Everyday
James Cohan Gallery New York, NY
June 1-August 1st
James Cohan Gallery recently invited Matthew Higgs, director of White Columns in New York, to revive a proposal for the 6th Berlin Biennale entitled Everyday Abstract -- Abstract Everyday. According to Higgs, the exhibition considers "the complex entanglements between non-representational art and everyday life." Each interaction builds tension between the visceral reaction to abstract objects and the emotional connections to their familiar materials. Contradictory sensations transform this seemingly simple show into one of extensive cultural interrogation and mental aerobics.
According to Higgs, many of the works in the exhibition speak to the moment at which the "self-contained rationality of earlier modernist abstraction is ruptured." Higgs’ Modernism is equal parts contemporary social commentary and investigation of aesthetic concerns developing out of the past. The works in this exhibition, most of which are sculpture or mixed media, wear familiarity as a facade. Wolfgang Breuer's Untitled (2009), composed of four browned maple leaves taped to the wall as a three-dimensional frame, is a striking metaphor for the transitional period of autumn. It channels the hush of fallen foliage and a winter-white, clean slate of change. The foliage is celebrated for its preservation of a corner created by acute folds along several veins. N. Dash's Untitled (2012), a hyper-zoomed silver gelatin print of a chaotic cotton tangle, casts similar magnitude onto a mysterious mass of thread that accumulated in the artist's pocket over time. Breuer and Dash refuse to accept the disposable nature of their everyday medium or subject. By halting their expiration date, both artists extract the poetry of suspended time devoid of narrative.
Each work in the exhibition consists of “traces of material culture,” says Higgs, many instantly recognizable to the 21st century viewer. Colored paper, newspaper, dropcloths, and other mass-produced objects are repurposed to elevate their aesthetic rather than practical charms. Ann Cathrin November Høibo's Untitled #6 (2012), a bronze of instant Ramen noodles, is distinctly representational. This emblem of artificiality summons the shared generational experience of collegiate poverty, a cornerstone that will be preserved for centuries. His personal effects (white v-neck, two) (2012) by Tom Burr prompts a similar surge of anxiety upon recognition. Burr's white t-shirt, deliberately folded and tacked to a piece of wood incongruously, is the antithesis of carefree cotton. The presentation is restrained but dexterous: equal parts undergarment and straitjacket. Despite temporal familiarity, stylization punctuates an altered identity for both objects. Høibo and Burr highlight the aesthetic malleability of their subjects. The work discourages recognition by muddling the functionality of each subject, prioritizing craftsmanship rather than conforming to reality.
The passing of time erodes context. Higgs supports this erasure by supplying several works created between 1970 and 1996. Al Taylor's wooden broomstick sculpture Untitled: (Rinse) (1988) consists of two pairs of pastel poles that emerge from a Formica mount on the wall. The simple gesture resembles a kinetic horse galloping out of a technicolor time warp. It is bound to volume and perspective rather than the identity of the rigid rods. The shafts are protected from convoluted interpretations by their ambiguity. Although the other works may follow suit eventually, the challenge remains the maintenance of this non-representational vacuum. Sergej Jensen's Untitled (Binary One) (2005), a composition of varied international bills of currency ascending in a straight line of value, is particularly indigestible. Objects-turned-medium with undeniable cultural weight inspire a search for ulterior motives and sets one’s memory ablaze. Everyday Abstract -- Abstract Everyday is a daydream mangled and warped by exterior reflections, no doubt a triumph for Higgs. These ubiquitous objects are nourished and immortalized by way of paradox.