Lisa Williamson: A Landscape and a Hum
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
October 27 - December 17, 2022
By ISAAC ADEN, December 2022
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery has a reputation as visionary gallery, not one pushing blue chips around, rather taking risks and developing exceptional new talents. While many galleries stay in the shallows presenting primarily work which is more conventionally sellable, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery comfortably transverses the deeper water with deeper art, presenting a museum caliber program which emphasize quality above all. Notedly, they are one of the few galleries I see consistently presenting world-class installations. Naturally, when I saw they were introducing a new artist to their roster and opening her first major solo exhibition in New York, I was intrigued to learn more.
Los Angeles based artist Lisa Williamson’s solo exhibition A Landscape and a Hum is clearly tuned in to the underlying formalist concerns of contemporary painting. The exhibition is comprised of dimensional and shaped aluminum wall works and suspended single plain metal sculptures, with hand painted surfaces which frequently make use of systemic patterning via stripes and three-dimensional adornments. Clearly confident with an understated elegance, Lisa Williamson’s work is succeeding on so many different levels. By marrying seemingly oppositional positions Williamson brings more to the work. They seem to arrive so naturally, effortless yet clearly considered, refined yet not belabored, hard edged with a soft touch, light yet made of metal, and singular yet resonating together in harmony.
The exhibition is presented in three galleries; in the main space the artist presents five wall-based works paired with four of her new Suspension pieces. The way the Suspension pieces interact with the wall-based works as the viewer progresses through the space, elevates the overall success of the exhibition. What they do for Williamson is they get her off the wall. Their installation in the center of the gallery allows her full range to holistically engage the architecture of space and not be constrained to its perimeter. In this way Williamson uses the Suspension pieces such as Suspension Wave, to form structures within the composition of the exhibition consistent with the way she uses ornaments, stripes or other decisive punctuations in the individual works. Upon seeing the Suspension pieces, I immediately thought of the exciting and different ways these works could function in other spaces.
Also included in the main exhibition space are five examples of Williamson’s wall reliefs which straddle the boundaries of painting and sculpture. This is evident in Parallel Field. Williamson presents the viewer with a metal wall relief entirely covered in a field of vertical stripes. The distinguishing quality of this work are the two parallel protruding aluminum planes perpendicular to the primary surface of the piece. When viewed from straight ahead they collapse into the stripes. However, when viewed from an angle, the optical effect rewards you for viewing in person as opposed to merely online. Williamson has previously explored how physical perspective shifts can create compelling optical effects and alter the formalist read, as evident in her Wave works. One Particularly strong aspect about Parallel Field is its positioning in the gallery. The viewer naturally encounters in from an angle. From that angle, some of the stripes fold into the others, but this is not true from the other side. It is not about optical camouflage for Williamson but rather like in so many of the other works, the subtle details make the difference.
My personal favorite of the exhibition was the wall relief Silhouette Rouge. Like many of Williamson’s other wall reliefs it has decidedly human proportion. Williamson has previously made work based on her height and the size of her son’s body. Silhouette Rouge exemplifies the absolute brilliance of Lisa Williamson’s work, which lies in the succinct ability to continuously engage painting in a very painterly fashion while simultaneously addressing the concerns that drove minimalists from the canvas.
On the eve of minimalism and into the first half of the 60’s the future of painting was being considered in intellectual discourses, Allen Kaprow (best known for his installations and happenings such as Yard, 1961) suggested: “There are two alternatives; one is to continue in this vein… The other is to give up the making of painting entirely”1 Donald Judd’s position would take it a step further stating “Actual space is intrinsically more powerful than paint on a flat surface”2 What would follow would be an erosion of the emphasis on the explosive gestural marks of the artists hand in favor modes of artistic production which considered Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.
Williamson doesn’t hang her hat on history, rather Williamson’s work informs what is relevant to today’s contemporary art. While Williamson seems to intuitively respond the impetus that arose in the early 60’s for minimalists to work beyond the boundaries of the canvas, she distinguishes herself by not conforming to some of the primary tenants of minimalism, such as removing the artist’s hand. It is in fact Williamson’s hand that makes her work so successful. According to Williamson her approach to paint and color seems to be initially intuitive. Williamson stated the final applications of color are informed by each previous layer. In this way one could see her approach aligning less with minimalism, where the realization of the work is more closely aligned to design and more closely aligned with a painting practice in which aspects of the work develop organically based on previous decisions. These concerns are the concerns of a painter. While Williamson’s works are not on canvas, Williamson’s deliberateness to paint by hand demands the work to be considered in relationship to arc of western painting.
In the second gallery Williamson’s horizon Bar works wrap the gallery. Much like her approach to the exhibition, she sets up a system for herself. The works are of consistent height with differing widths, allows for a harmony within the body of work while allowing for individuality in their formalist approaches to systemic patterning and color. Upon seeing Williamson’s Bars some might think of Judd’s wall reliefs. However, they probably owe more to Anne Truitt (an artist Williamson had mentioned in our conversation) or for me personally, Jo Baer, a painter who pushed over the edge of the canvas and who defied the singularity of modernist painting with her paired canvases. Williamson’s Bars rely on the periphery of the canvas in the same way as Baer and the emphasis on details, edges, and perimeters are reoccurring and defining aspects of Williamson’s work.
In the final gallery Bonakdar presents selection of Williamson’s works on paper. They seem like studies or maquettes which inform the larger works but are stunning in their own right. More significantly they reflect reoccurring themes which can be traced through out Williamson’s practice. For example, Access has the same “lattice” pattern that can be seen in Primo 2021 and Complex from 2018. Split Press looks like it could be a study for one of her “Wave” pieces such as Outlines 2021, Earth Wave 2017, or Tsunami 2016. Atmosphere is example of Williamson’s utilizing the presence of patterning as a formal element, a continuous aspect of her practice as evident in Body Board Constellation 2019, and Body Board, Nerves 2016.
Williamson has spoken about “tuning” the individual works together to create a “hum”. For all their variety of shapes and their differences in formalist approach composition and pattern, it is Williamson’s hand and her approach to color that seems to be creating a unifying resonance that bind together the diversity of these singular works. WM
1. Kaprow, Allan. “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock”. Art News, 1958. pp. 55.
2. Judd, Donald. Specific Objects. 1964, pp.94
Isaac Aden is an artist and curator based in New York.view all articles from this author