3.15.17 — Avoidance Behavior

John Dante Bianchi called his show “Unavoidable Encounter.” I would not have had it any other way. With Monika Zarzeczna, I had a less fortunate encounter, but just as unavoidable. At least the dealer assured me so when I apologized: I was only the latest to dislodge a work from the wall. It had fallen three times at the opening alone.

I am not convinced: I should have been more careful. Still, both artists expose their materials to the elements for good reason. They lay bare a work’s construction, with what others might dismiss as unfinished. They also ask one to compare its fragility to one’s own. Save taped lines on the floor for museums.

Both make art between painting and sculpture—or between painting and its frame. Bianchi creases his rectilinear surfaces, so that they protrude that much further into the room, recently at Denny through January 22. Often he folds or peels them back as well, revealing the stretcher and the space within it as a further intrusion into depth. Painting comes off the wall while also returning to the wall. He recalls Minimalism’s talk of art as object, with a geometry determined by its edges, only here the hard edges fall within the painting rather than along the borders of stretched canvas. The lines in three dimensions also contrast with the freer handling of paint and the unpredictable overall shape.

His rejection of formalism extends to the blurred, layered, and mottled surfaces. He does not lean strictly to flesh tones, but the pinks, blues, and creams mean to evoke human skin. He sands or scars aluminum and plywood panels to increase the interpenetration of color, with the bruising both literal and a metaphor. Where Minimalism obliged one to look to oneself and one’s surroundings, here both appear vulnerable. White sculpture in the center of the room looks more like stalagmites. Does that make the panels cave paintings?

Zarzeczna comes across as more of a craftsperson, at Lesley Heller through March 19, but not for long. Here the wood looks shaped and bent like an old rocker. It could be Cubism’s still-life with chair caning without the caning. In practice, though, she simply cuts away at found scraps and connects them, with the hardware visible as with Robert Ryman. They also serve as stretchers for battered Plexiglas or aluminum and spattered paint, only the panels have mostly fallen to the floor. Normally, aluminum flashing protects houses from damage by water, but things are less stable than they appear.

If one had any doubts, a small weight on the floor keeps the sole freestanding work from sliding or toppling over. Once again a work’s support becomes part of its materials and imagery. Its larger scale compared to wall pieces also keeps it from becoming precious. Others include bundled horsehair and twine, hanging down or holding (for now) a smaller construction to the wall. They suggest brooms and human hair, as further marks of housekeeping and personal exposure. Should they fall, they can take on the task of sweeping up.

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

1.31.17 — Framing the Gallery

I have such a backlog of drafts that I could never post them all before the shows close. Allow me, though, at least a couple more this week. Here I include one show that has already closed but another still running.

Dannielle Tegeder speaks of her paintings and drawings as utopias, but they do not approach formal perfection. They have bulky frames. They do not even hang on the wall. Leaning up against it, they might be staking out their place in an unfinished installation. She or her dealer, Johannes Vogt through January 8, might still be having second thoughts. Not that the works lack for polish.

Melissa Kretschmer's Strait Away (Lesley Heller, 2016)Tegeder’s geometry does not stop with the frames and the walls. Nor does her engagement with the gallery. She has worked directly on the wall and leaned work directly against walls and floors. She has also leaned works against one another, hiding them while bringing them that much further into the room. Here they rest on what pass for makeshift plinths, where another artist might settle for paint cans. Look again, though, and the plinths have their own geometry and polish, like her images. They might have tumbled out of the thick white frames.

The sculpture recalls Constantin Brancusi, while her tumbling compositions and subdued palette could belong to any number of past utopias, from Russian constructivism to László Moholy-Nagy and the Bauhaus. Both media are hard-edged, modular, and irregular. The paintings and drawings have wide open spaces, just like objects in a room. Tegeder exhibited in “Geometric Days” at Exit Art in 2011, and one could locate her days mostly in the past. Yet she approaches the urban chaos of Julie Mehretu.

Tegeder leans to Modernism, but also to the city she knows. She has mapped taxi rides as an artist book, which she calls the real or outright dystopian side of her vision. It puts the zombies in “zombie formalism.” The show itself bears a less than optimistic title, “Blind Hierarchies.” Its broken boundaries and dystopias have counterparts in politics as well, although one might never know it. Still, she encourages the viewer to navigate her spaces in order to see.

Melissa Kretschmer, too, introduces frames and walls into her paintings. They just happen to fall roughly midway, at Lesley Heller through February 5. Her abstractions look familiar enough, although from a later Modernism than Tegeder’s. A tight group of horizontals or verticals interrupts an otherwise blank field. The patterning may recall Gene Davis, although in more muted colors, while the sudden, spare interruptions recall “zip paintings” by Barnett Newman. Their creamy white surroundings recall the layered textures of Sean Scully in oil or Brice Marden in encaustic, but the edge has moved toward the center.

The stripes have an additional dimension, and so do the more open fields. She calls the series “Excavations.” Kretschmer works in vellum, gesso, gouache, beeswax, and graphite on chiseled plywood—where even to list the media all but buries her pigments in the stuff of craft, books, nature, and construction. Her easel scale refuses late Modernism’s mural scale as well. The zips resemble molding, which could belong equally to a picture frame or to a door. They revive the old metaphor of painting as a window onto the world, while insisting on the window as an element of architecture.

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