Art, work and the working day
The lobby gallery of the downtown office tower designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill at 1285 Avenue of the Americas, with its partitioned walls flanked by floor-to-ceiling windows on the north and south sides of the building, is exceptionally well suited for meetings casual and focused with art.
Yet finding the balance between content and scale that will make these encounters click is a tricky prospect, which Jason Andrew, co-founder of Norte Maar and curator of the current Ways and Means: A New Look at Processes and Materials in Artsuccessfully tackled twice before, with To Be a Lady: forty-five women in the arts in 2012 and last year between a place and sweetswho explored pattern and repetition.
Means and methods is no exception, a carefully curated exhibition that repeatedly pulls in the wow factor without bypassing the more meditative aspects of process art. Three works open the show with a bang: “Magic Chromacity” (2014) by Amanda Browder and “C’mon, C’mon” (2008) by Jenny Hankwitz on the north side of the hall and “Krater” by Frank Owen (2012 -13) to the south (a quirky aspect of the space is that it provides equal access to viewing areas to the right and left of the entrance, adding a random challenge to the curatorial narrative).
These works, along with Ben Godward’s “Alter Piece for CERN (chaos fundamentally)” (2016), are the extroverts of the party, offering a heady mix of size, intention and formal invention. Browder’s “Magic Chromacity” is a site-specific installation of draped and rolled multicolored fabrics, which was first assembled and installed as part of a community project in Birmingham, Alabama; Hankwitz’s “C’mon, C’mon,” according to the wall text, is an abstract oil painting based on tracings the artist has made from “slip marks thrown into the artist’s studio.” clay ” ; Owen’s “Krater” is an extravagantly layered composition incorporating abstract and figurative elements; and Godward’s “Alter Piece for CERN (basically chaos)” lives up to its subtitle with a 12-foot-tall aluminum frame brimming with beach ball-sized spheres made from massive castings. of urethane foam in bright, kaleidoscopic colors.
The exhibition enjoys an easy flow despite the bifurcated layout and diverse range of approaches and materials, with underlying affinities enlivened by muted antagonisms. In the pairing of Browder and Hankwitz in the first room on the right, the two pieces come together in the intensity of their color and the grandeur of their gestures. Yet there are frictions between them: floating on the floor, the materials of Browder’s huge installation can only be themselves, while Hankwitz’s abstraction in patches of red, blue, black and pink on snow-white ground, via its state as a painting, enters the floating realm of metaphor.
The struggle animates the space and sets the tone for what follows – individual pieces engaging in dialogue with adjacent works and calling out others that may be around the corner or across the hall. I couldn’t help but make the connection between Godward’s “Alter Piece” on the north side of the building and a great work by Charles Goldman on the south, “RE>CRETE>FACTORY>SHOWROOM” (2016).
Goldman’s installation consists of two stacks of identical geometric shapes made up of three intersecting planes (two vertical and one horizontal) that create open four-chambered building blocks. According to the text on the wall, “RE>CRETE> is a custom-designed, eco-friendly building material” that the artist has developed over the past six years, “made from newspaper and junk mail, CDs, shredded DVDs and credit cards, home-cut electronic wires, shredded packing styrofoam, reclaimed house acrylic paint, and Portland cement (among other ingredients.) To the naked eye, it looks like concrete, and its sensibility recycled, earthly industrial resembles the natural counterpoise of swollen shapes and bright colors rising like a radioactive cloud in Godward’s sculpture.
Another parallel running from one side of the building to the other is a pair of prints from Richard Serra’s “Paths and Edges” series (2007), with cropped sections of dense concentric circles, and “Mutual Concerns” by Chakaia Booker (2004), an automobile tire cut and twisted into spiky, almost organic-looking shapes. Serra’s black circles, surrounded by scuffs, splatters and smudges, are printed with ink so thick it looks like tar, giving the impression of tire tracks running through soft asphalt.
I don’t want to veer into literalism, but rather establish a correspondence in which Serra’s perception of resolute abstraction is informed by Booker’s source material, which in turn has been transformed into spiky and expansive forms that render the initial form anything but unrecognizable.
In this light, Serra’s etchings reflect an everyday reality rather than a platonic reality; that is to say, if his art, in his way of thinking, can operate on a purely geometric plane, it is none the less linked to life as it is lived now, including the worries of road works. Intentionally or not, he accepts reality as a touchstone, which no doubt explains much of his strength. Conversely, but equally compelling, Booker’s sculpture is reality transformed: the sharp contrasts of its mysterious black shapes are so captivating that their quirky tire-like appearance is an afterthought.
There are 25 artists in this exhibition and each pursues a unique set of variables, including plaster casts of Maud Bryt’s own body; the mural assemblage of canvas, wood, metal, paper and fabric by Bruce Dorfman; the joint Eames chairs by Bruce Dow; Robert Raphael’s stoneware facsimiles of thick, knotted cords; the fantastic grotesques by Daniel Wiener in green Apoxie-Sculpt; Norman Jabaut’s long-necked abstract construction made of found wood and metal; the sheet metal and Plexiglas box by Max Estenger; the visceral and rocky collision of earthenware and steel by Ali Della Bitta; Jill Levine’s abstract evocations of pre-Columbian art in polystyrene and plaster; and Steve Keister’s glazed ceramics drawn from Mayan and Aztec sculpture.
Some of the two-dimensional works, like Hankwitz’s “C’mon, C’mon”, emphasize the flatness of their medium – Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson’s hand-woven silk painting, Susan Wanklyn’s playful abstractions in casein on wood panel and the equally dynamic pastel of Robert Moskowitz. silhouettes of a baseball bat and a bottle of beer on almost empty sheets of paper. Elsewhere, Dorothea Rockburne’s acrylic-on-paper mottled abstractions and Naomi Safran-Hon’s cement-encrusted painting of the interior of a bombed-out house are grounded in palpable textures. Donald Traver’s whimsical biomorphic abstraction, Bryn Jayes’ twilight landscape, and Letha Wilson’s combination of concrete and an abstract C-Print look almost like outliers in their engagement with conventional illusions of space.
Whether it is fitting that an exhibition like this, with its recurring use of ordinary materials, be set up in such a busy, everyday environment, with employees rushing to the elevators and wheel dealers retreating with their cellphones in the quieter corners of the gallery, it is also worth mentioning, as Jason Andrew writes in the exhibition brochure, that these artists are more concerned “with ways and means than with why and how, […] where the product is not the main objective, where the process is not the means but an end. There is a lot of energy flowing through this disconnect.
Ways and Means: A New Look at Processes and Materials in Art continues at 1285 Avenue of the Americas Art Gallery (Midtown, Manhattan) until October 7.