By ANDREA BELL, JUN. 2017
Walking into the light-filled Chase Edward’s gallery in Bridgehampton, you find yourself in an immersive environment. The walls of New York City have been brought into the gallery, thick with the impasto of graffiti and the remnants of posters and advertisements, while larger than life-sized paper airplanes and paper butterflies seem to zip around the space, swirling from one canvas to another, darting in and out of view.
The paintings on view represent an evolution in Guy Stanley Philoche’s style, which has always been preoccupied with composition and the communicative potential of proportion and especially of the grid. His early works explored the visual and tactile possibilities of a hard-edged kind of color field painting in the Untitled Series. The grid carried through to his Monopoly Series, the game itself dedicated to the acquisition of the city, whose grid seems to have been recycled from that of De Style in order to represent the geometry of urban space, parceled out for ownership. Having emigrated from Haiti to Connecticut as a child, Philoche recounts fond memories of playing board games with his siblings, an experience that has been replaced in the lives of his nieces and nephews with gaming technology. As a result, the Monopoly Series memorializes his own nostalgia for a lost, analogue world.
In Come Fly With Me, Philoche’s nostalgia is less a matter of historical time than it is of biographical time. In the present moment of heightened political tension, Philoche jettisons the recuperation of outdated narratives and the hollow reconstruction of a prior golden age, which, like a mirage, exists only on the edges of apprehension and never in lived experience. Instead, the works in Come Fly With Me offer moments of contemplation and reprieve from the hyperreality of the modern city. For the first time in his work, Philoche sets the Modernist grid askew, and paper airplanes suddenly come darting through the canvases, playfully undermining the grid’s self-serious claim to universality. The paper airplanes glide almost flippantly over the surfaces, entering the field of the picture as though unbidden, and leaving their trails in great swirling gestures behind them.
The planes are further set off from their grounds by their materiality. In his first foray into the series, Philoche began by constructing the planes out of basic notebook paper, but he quickly switched to making them out of enlarged reproductions of currency – both dollars and euros – in varying denominations. Soon bills folded into butterflies replace the planes in some canvases, alighting momentarily on their surfaces. Once taken out of circulation, folded and, one imagines, tossed unceremoniously from a window to float along the surface of the wall, the trompe l’oeil planes convey a childlike irreverence both for the sanctified field of painting and for the status of money itself.
Since his Untitled series, Philoche has sought to erode the barrier between his viewers and his works of art. The thickly shellacked canvases from the Untitled series, for example, begged to be touched. In Come Fly with Me however, rather than exhorting the viewer to closer physical interaction with the paintings, Philoche impertinently launches paper airplanes directly through the field of vision, toys interrupting the emotional communion between viewer and viewed. Philoche undermines the grid’s claims to universal, transcendental signification by the darting in and out of the paper planes, shot between the viewer and the sanctified field of vision.
Philoche doubles down on this transgression by forming his planes and his butterflies out of enlarged reproductions of currency: from one and two dollar bills in the case of the butterflies, to larger denominations like 100 dollar and euro notes, thus exposing the banknote for what it is: an abstract sign with no inherent material value once it has been detached from its system of circulation. The apparent playfulness of the planes and butterflies save the works from any sign of heavy-handedness or
Like many people, Philoche fondly remembers being given a two-dollar bill by his father for good luck. This simple, even quotidian memory is precisely the point. It suggests the halcyon days of childhood, when symbols of the adult world, only vaguely understood, were free to move into the imaginative world of youth and be transformed. To glibly fold up a 100-dollar bill and then to toss it carelessly past a wall emphasizes the bill’s existence first as material paper, which can be folded and re-folded into a myriad of forms and used for innumerable entertainments. It also betrays an irreverence for the status of money as the most valued commodity, as a goal in itself rather than as a means to an end. There is no more abstract system than the monetary system, which values commodities according to the whims of a market constructed by hype. The bill itself, detached from any relationship to a physical commodity as, for example, the gold standard, is the ultimate expression of this system: a signifier that lacks a material signified, the fundamental example, perhaps, of the simulacra – all surface, with no inherent meaning.
The light-filled Chase Edwards Gallery, like the Hamptons more generally, is a reprieve from the stimulation of the city. Yet, like the Hamptons, this show is still resolutely of the city. Philoche’s playful, nostalgic paper planes and butterflies suggest both the mediating function of money as it intervenes in all social and aesthetic relationships, and the absurdity of turning currency itself into the ultimate goal. Rather than a symbol of status and value to be sought at all costs, the paintings in Come Fly With Me ask the viewer to re-envision an earlier relationship with money: one in which a $100 bill is valued not only in and of itself, but for the fleeting moments of carefree joy it can bring when folded into a paper plane. WM
Come Fly With Me will be on view at Chase Edwards Contemporary Fine Art from May 26 to June 26. Gallery hours are Thursday – Sunday 10:00-6:00 and by appointment.
Andrea Bell is an art historian, critic and writer. She received her PhD from NYU and has held fellowships in both Europe and the United States, including at the Morgan Library and Museum’s Drawing Institute. Based in New York City, Andrea teaches Art History and Criticism at Parsons School of Design
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