2.14.18 — Dark Matter

Who knew that New York University’s Center for Neural Science has an artist in residence? Nene Humphrey is just that, and she calls her latest show “Transmission,” like a brain wave or a work of art.

Neural science is concerned with networks, almost like fabric, and so is she. She bases her art on embroidery and clinical studies of the brain. It gets dark and messy, and the mess can be an act of remembrance. It can also be a probe into the mind, in a wiry third dimension.

Nene Humphrey's Out of the Nothing There Is (Lesley Heller Workspace, 2008)Humphrey shared a gallery in 2009 with Nancy Haynes, with the tactile, physical edge of abstraction as her subject. Her Mylar on paper held floating blots or blocks of color. From there, ink spun outward, like the self-generating networks of the brain. A show that same year of abstraction and its materials called itself “Cutters,” and Humphrey is still cutting and weaving. It could stand for the messy business of fine art. It also invites the viewer into a record of its making.

Her new work opens with a construction in wire and mixed media, at Lesley Heller through February 18. It also extends to video, in an installation that draws them together as a vivid whole. Its images serve as both a model for creativity and a remembrance of death. For all their material nature, they come most alive when fragile and translucent. They come alive, too, in the viewer’s unfolding experience. It could be her own or a scientist’s experience as well.

The new work adds associations with human hair. It served as a Victorian keepsake, for further remembrance. She also adds more of Humphrey. One enters past wire spinning across facing walls, only to face the artist, projected onto strips hanging from the ceiling like a curtain onto the unknown. She could be feeling out her materials, weaving them together, or teasing them apart. She could almost be conducting brain surgery.

The results appear behind the curtain, in two more videos on facing walls. Both project above what could be her work tables, with the tools at hand. The show concludes with seeming frames from the videos, but in charcoal. They soften her textures and carry them into a greater but more illusory depth. Science may have become more a metaphor than a serious, independent practice. Yet the merger of process and product has become a shared experience.

I covered Humphrey briefly in context of Haynes, “Cutters,” and Mary Heilmann. I encountered her still more briefly in a 2014 group show, “This Music Crept By Me upon the Waters,” grappling with loss. There she recorded her husband’s breathing before his death in 2006. Her central shapes, in violet against blue, and her white tracery swelled outward like jellyfish with the currents and the air. I have amplified the first review a bit with just some of the words here, as a longer review and my latest upload, while leaving the second intact. Artists in shades of black and white are still casting their spell upon the waters.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.

8.21.17 — The Secret Gardens

Do people leave town in summer to get closer to nature? On a Wednesday evening in July, several galleries on the Lower East Side joined together with much the same aim, as a way to get people back to the city—and I have added this to an earlier recap of 2017 summer group shows, to fill out the picture. As you will see in a moment, I also take you to another chance to get back to the garden this summer, at Wave Hill.

In truth, not all the galleries in “Gardens on Orchard” stuck to its theme. I have already included McKenzie in that wrap-up of 2017 summer group shows for its abstraction. Visitors, though, reveled in summer’s lushness. I soon enough lost track of the number and even identity of the artists.

Lesley Heller, through August 18, opens with a sly promise of a wider meadow in Astroturf, which Jim Osman sets in painted boxes reminiscent of modern design from the Bauhaus to Memphis. Katherine Newbegin hints at the promise betrayed, with her photo of an empty swimming pool. In between come strategies of painting, often on the verge of Op Art, sci-fi fantasy, or “pattern and decoration,” but with the fiercer creatures of Judith Linhares invading the garden. KK Kozik leaves nature to the illusion of color postcards pinned to a bookcase in black and white, but all is well—even with nature pierced by a highway or seemingly on fire. Not quite on Orchard Street, Freight + Volume has a still greater abundance, through September 8, as “The Secret Life of Plants.” Its secrets range from the Postmodernism of Neil Welliver and Ross Bleckner to the dreamlike contemporary states of mind of JJ Manford, David Humphrey, Benjamin King, Alexis Rockman, Cristina de Miguel, H. Peik Larsen, and Emily Noelle Lambert.

Back on Orchard, Pablo’s Birthday returned to nature by returning as well to its very last show. Nik Christensen, through June 18, had not made nature easy to find. His canvases look almost like vintage TV screens on the fritz, only in a vertical format and on the scale of a wide screen today. On the gallery’s second floor, through July 30, they once again accumulate black, white, and gray in diamonds instead of pixels—and in an unexpected variety of scales. The pleasure comes in tracking them, as the image accumulates, clarifies, and once again dissolves. If I am not mistaken, they belong to forest scenes with people at their center but not altogether at home.

One of Heller’s artists, Elisabeth Condon, also helps bring nature to Wave Hill, which amounts to overkill all by itself. A private park in Riverdale, in the Bronx, it offers carefully tended lawns and sometimes elusive, sometimes dramatic views of the Hudson and the cliffs of the Palisades beyond. At its heart, though, are gardens, flowering trees, and the Glyndor Gallery for art. This year all three collude on a mix of native and exotic species, through August 27, as “Flora Fantastica!” One can almost excuse the exclamation point, because the flora look less fantastical than running wild. In the tradition of Flemish and Dutch still-life, the artists also bring one close enough to touch.

Jill Parisi does so literally, although touching is verboten, with paper and tissue flowers. Her hand-colored intaglio and digital prints burst into color and three dimensions. Nancy Blum lets flowers grow larger than life in ink, colored pencil, gouache, and graphite. They bring a fine line out of old botanical studies and seductive fantasies. Like both artists, Amy Cheng combines species in a single flower, with patterning in oil that leaves the edge of the canvas to break its intricate symmetry. Condon does sketch what she sees on the spot, in black ink, but she also thrives on the contrast of flowing ink and more detailed acrylic.

Not part of the show, Jan Mun has a talking plant in the sun rooms, where the speaker expounds on the parallels between Western imperialism and invasive species. It could be the reincarnation of Mr. Ed as a politically correct vegetable. David Rios Ferreira has flowers, too, covering the window panes, but also images from children’s books and housing projects. They invoke the actual environment for the Bronx kids with whom he collaborates. So is art about gardens in summer a natural, superfluous, or a confusion of the imagination and real life? The puzzle has a long history in representation, and it is not going away any summer soon.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.