The Summer Show
June 24 through August 21, 2021
By VITTORIA BENZINE, August 2021
Keeping with the summertime tradition of group exhibitions, Kathryn Markel Fine Arts presents The Summer Show at their Chelsea gallery location. This conglomerate series of new works by Deborah Dancy, Susan English, Antony Densham, Tucker Nichols, and Erin O’Brien have all been culled from each artist’s practice over the past year or so, from the throes of the ongoing pandemic. These artists’ disparate styles all intersect at their focus on process and intellectual frameworks, two core tenets to the institution’s ethos. The Summer Show also holds space for a necessary sense of peace, notably absent from this frenetic present moment and this sweltering summertime scene.
Numerous galleries currently participating in the seasonal tradition of group shows are working within a pronounced mania. This is the first summer of real re-opening post-pandemic. After the past year’s tumult, people are determining how humans fit into the new world—digital growth, political shifts, and climate change all hang in the mix between moving on from COVID-19 and plummeting back into another lockdown at the hands of its variants. It’s a fraught moment that artists are active in this season.
Kathryn Markel Fine Arts makes clear in their materials that the gallery, established in 1975, holds a “belief that significant contemporary art can be beautiful as well as visually and intellectually rigorous.” The Summer Show offers placid, gorgeous reflections amidst the sultry freakout. Such reflections include “sensuous provocations” by Deborah Dancy, whose gentle tangles of brushwork unfold for the viewer like walking a visual labyrinth. On the other end of the spectrum, Tucker Nichols explores figuration with vibrant yet childlike and flat depictions of houseplants, which became good friends to the homebound. During unprecedented lockdowns, Nichols began a project called “Flowers for Sick People” in which he sent paintings in this vein to those who’d fallen ill.
Susan English has poured layers of tinted polymer on panels that craft calming investigations into color, portraying the infinite shades that occur along a gradient. Much like Nichol’s flowers are connected to actual scientific outcomes of emotional reprieve, color offers an archetypal tool for affecting more balanced mental states. Flora and fauna grow into motifs across The Summer Show, even here, as the press release notes, “The poured polymer mimics nature: a layer of polymer hardens like ice or mud—its thickness and viscosity impacting how the surface dries.”
Erin O’Brien and Antony Densham play in the liminal space between figurative and abstract with interest, but without urgency. O’Brien takes cues from photographs and existing artworks, focusing on one color as her intuitive jumping off point. Resulting canvases create an interesting 'viewing by numbers’ experience for the receiver, whose eye dances between blocks of color, silhouetted faces and blank swaths of canvas. Most striking are works from Antony Densham, whose paintings throughout The Summer Show masterfully engage the eye with abstract landscapes that spur the imagination in some spaces, alongside more concrete accents that awe—I stood for five minutes in front of one painting wondering how Densham could craft a patch of amethyst mountain sans detail, just one well-placed brushstroke.
There was a point just under a year and a half ago where we all swore to take things a little easier, to let up on the pressure and enjoy every moment. This summertime has led us into the real new normal, and it’s important to prioritize pleasure alongside the many revolutions transpiring. These are our times, and they are ours for the changing, but also the savoring. Stop by The Summer Show for a necessary dose of beauty before summer ends and we all sink a little deeper back down to business. WM
Vittoria Benzine is a street art journalist and personal essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her affinity for counterculture and questioning has introduced her to exceptional artists and morally ambiguous characters alike. She values writing as a method of processing the world’s complexity. Send love letters to her via: @vittoriabenzine // firstname.lastname@example.org // vittoriabenzine.com
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