5.13.13 — Puzzle Painting
Canan Talon falls just short of familiar—several times over. One could even mistake her for the German master of effacing the familiar, Gerhard Richter, only which version? Similar questions will dog this page all this week, when I shall focus on new approaches to abstract art.
Richter has pulled off abstraction, but with a squeegee, and photorealism, but blurred to the very edge of legibility, and one hardly knows which to call more emotionally laden or detached. Talon manages to combine the two tacks in a single painting. She feasts on streaks of black and near monochrome, at Von Lintel through May 25, but there is no avoiding the subject matter. That just leaves the puzzle of what it is and how it got there.
Talon’s industrial landscapes look like silkscreens, although she paints them the hard way. The very repetition of oil tanks and tiered towers, with little or no sign of life, suggests mass production. They even fall roughly into grids, like water towers for Bernd and Hilla Becher. Talon’s education has in fact taken her to Germany along with Turkey, London, and Berkeley. Is her urban scene personal or political, and is it lush or bleak? Maybe ask again after seeing it over and over and over.
Scott Treleaven has so much background that I cannot keep track of it all—or, for that matter, see it in his work. Still, he is an obsessive reader and draftsman, and it shows. He also has a predigital medium in mind, with “All-Nite Cinema,” at Invisible-Exports through June 2. A typical painting, on two or three sheets of paper or cardboard, looks like a contact print hastily marked in color for what he has to save, except that the image within the black has already slipped away. Titles allude to subcultures, discoveries, and failures in modern literature and film. Maybe a human body or two went missing along the way.
Someone may have gone missing, too, for Don Gummer, at Allegra LaViola through June 1. His collages look like jigsaw puzzles, but step back and the puzzle may snap into focus, as a plaza or building—including the Parthenon and a Frank Lloyd Wright dwelling with no one at home. If the torn and cut paper also looks like tiling, this is after all architecture. If it could function as sculptural maquettes, Gummer makes sculpture as well, large and small, with ties to David Smith. And if, in the end, interwoven shades of gray start with Analytic Cubism, one work depicts a guitar. When it comes to Modernism, abstraction is still playing along.
For Bob Zoell and Wyatt Kahn, at Rachel Uffner through June 2, painting functions even more like a jigsaw puzzle, and the puzzle may be visual or physical, but never verbal. Zoell bases his compositions on graphic design, effacing the text. The earliest, around 1997, sticks to black and white, with the raw asymmetry of censored documents. When the series mostly ends four years later, it has become clean black bars centered on fields of color. The paint on aluminum no longer looks torn out of the headlines, like censorship in art for David Wojnarowicz and Jenny Holzer. It has gained, however, in both brightness and detachment, like prison bars for Peter Halley or Alex Olson. It is also that much more of a puzzle.
Kahn suppresses the color almost entirely, by binding it like a hit man after a kill. He cuts a wood panel into pieces, covers each piece in colored canvas, and stretches additional white canvas over that. When he puts the pieces back together, never quite snugly, the unseen colors become visible shades of white. Who knew how easy it is to make shaped canvas, and who knew how easy it is for light to penetrate? The edge of one piece may extend to the next, intimating networks cutting across the whole, while the borders of the larger rectangle have taken on gentle curves. It could be the ultimate in white on white, like Minimalism for Robert Ryman. Somehow abstraction is still an enigma wrapped in an enigma.
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