November 2 – December 9, 2017
524 West 26th St.
New York, NY, 10001
Tuesday – Saturday: 11:00 - 6:00
Artists: Jeanine Alfieri, Ed Baynard, Joaquin Carter, Ayn S Choi,
Lucy Mink Covello, Lisa Corinne Davis, Susan English, Clarity Haynes,
Black Lake, Maggie Mailer, Hermes Payrhuber, Nancy Shaver,
Mary Ann Strandell, Kasper Sonne, Tad Wiley
By JEFFREY GRUNTHANER, NOV. 2017
Featuring 15 artists, with works carefully distributed throughout a museum-like expanse, Solace has the aura of hallowed ground. The show’s title takes its cue from the attitude of withdrawal necessary to create the types of works on display: mostly paintings that eschew topical reference, opting instead to delve into the psychological conditions underlying the reception of an artwork. If the show communicates a certain mood of tranquility, this is partially due to the the structure of the space Solace occupies. Architecturally, the gallery recalls a gothic transept. A long corridor shoots out into smaller galleries to your left and right as you approach the altar of the main room. Here, Ayn Choi’s mural-like painting “The Assumption of the Apocalypse” (2017) sets the show’s tone. Composed of house paint on tarp, this is inwardness writ large: painterly abstraction shading into a near total withdrawal from the circumstances of history and economics.
Choi’s personal brand of abstraction provides a clue to the motivations unifying the exhibiting artists. Each seems to participate in an aesthetic of reculer pour mieux sauter. When these artists retreat from the world, they do so only to bring us back into contact with it in renewed new ways. Mary Ann Strandell’s dedicatory piece “For Baudelaire” (2017) exemplifies this. One of the show’s more figurative works, Strandell’s wall installation is an experiential gestalt schematized into sort of mixed-media monogram. An opulent, quasi-Victorian scene drawn on the wall portrays birds in bowers. Juxtaposed with this are four lenticular prints that flicker with pastel hues. As I decipher this homage, Strandell’s piece reduces Baudelaire’s poetry to a pattern of metallic colors, which are then reconstructed to warp the connotations associated with his name.
The exhibition’s five rooms all have a unique atmosphere. When you initially enter the gallery the works in the first room to your left feel more minimalist than in other rooms. Abstracting from the seed of biological life, Joaquin Carter’s “Bleached Structure” (2017) depicts a wraith-like cell. Rather than emerge from the white canvas, Carter’s cell dissolves into it, suggesting that instinct has to conform to culture, time to the erudition of history and technique. Next to Carter’s piece, a more overtly minimalist canvas by Susan English continues the theme of dissolution, as though reveling in the expansiveness of disembodied perception.
As a grouping, the works on display signal a sense of rupture, of accident become elegiac. My favorite works in the show carry the traces of this rupture away from formulaic compositional strategies and realize a form of restless instability. Nancy Shaver’s “Ball and triangle in context” (2017), which comprises nine square patterns sutured together, creates an entropic picture made up of disparate miniatures. Each square block depicts a world unfolding in its own isolated history. Band-aided together, the blocks form a mosaic where the wonky disproportion between each square gives voice to a deliberate utterance on the part of chance.
While not being a collective, the artists in Solace tend to fall into motley pairings, rather than assert themselves as the authors of isolated works. This flies in the face of most museum-like exhibitions, which typically emphasize personal biographies over the collective context that gave rise to an artist’s work. Solace eschews the foregrounding of any one artist. This makes for a pleasant atmosphere, but strips the works of being able to comment on contemporary topics. At best, certain works reflect on current events as a matter of course. One exception to this is Lucy Mink Covello’s autumnal painting “look beyond the conditions” (2013). While seemingly placed alone, the setting depicted in her painting opens out onto the room containing Mary Ann Strandell’s works. In this way, “[looking] beyond the conditions” gives way to an illuminated catalogue that lends new insight to the meaning of Les fleurs du mal.
Other pieces are less fortunately placed, which has less to do with the atmosphere they suggest than their lack of originality. Including them might have been an upshot of the show’s curatorial strategy, which prioritizes art-making in itself over the intentionality of making art about something. Nevertheless, you can allow yourself to drift toward certain works while being turned off by others—similar to the way an atheist can appreciate the architecture of churches. Solace feels immemorial, and viewers can expect to be favorably impressed by both the quality and variety of the works on exhibit. WM
Jeffrey Grunthaner is an artist-writer-musician-curator currently based in Berlin. Essays, articles, poems, and reviews have appeared via BOMB, artnet News, The Brooklyn Rail, Archinect, Hyperallergic, Heavy Feather Review, Folder, Drag City Books, and other venues. Recent curatorial projects include the reading and discussion series Conversations in Contemporary Poetics at Hauser & Wirth Publishers (NY).view all articles from this author