Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Almost not there

I find myself increasingly drawn to a new idea. Well, it's not a new idea, but it's kind of new for me. It seems that I fall all over myself for work at the edge of visibility. The thought that I'm smitten with this theme came to me as I was viewing the new Alyson Shotz show at Derek Eller Gallery. It was ably and accurately reviewed in the NY Times recently, so I don't have much to add descriptively. But I want to talk about it a bit in relation to other work I've seen and liked that seems to be developing into a tendency. I wouldn't call it a theme just yet, but I'm tending to lump these various artists in a way that others might not have looked at yet.

So, the new, not-so-new idea is work at the edge of visibility; work that challenges us to evaluate what we are seeing because we're not sure what's there and what's not. Of course, this is not new. Robert Ryman asks us to see in this way when we look at his white paintings, and Ad Reinhardt asks us to see in this way when we look at his black paintings. James Turrell certainly taxes our senses when he places us in one of his immersive light sculptures, and Agnes Martin challenges us to see detail and rhythm in her minimalist work. And the list could go on. As a matter of fact, there is a show right now at the Drawing Center in NYC called "Apparently Invisible". Clearly I am not tilling new soil here.

But as well discussed as this art topic is, it is definitely not "discoursed out" as one curator I know likes to say. And Alyson Shotz is right in there making the discourse present and current. I've been a fan of her work since I saw "The Shape of Space" piece a few years ago at the Guggenheim. I love how she uses small, almost translucent, plastic lenses as a fractal/cellular device to build up a wall of shifting light and perception. She works the same magic now with pins and thread to build her wall sculpture thread drawings. But whatever the medium, she is always challenging our eyes to see what is often just barely visible. I love that.

And so it got me ruminating on other work I've seen and written about. There was the work of Karilee Fuglem at Pierre François Ouelette Gallery in Montreal. Ms Fuglem deals with the same kind of cellular building with common or insignificant objects that combine to make an unforgettable -- if invisible -- whole. Ms Fuglem's thread sculptures (drawings if you will) are sometimes completely invisible unless you catch them in raking light. When one walks into the gallery, the first impression is that it's empty. Only after a change in the perspective of light is the work revealed.

This shares a thread (sorry, I couldn't resist) with the work of Mark Garry which I saw in Pittsburgh's Mattress Factory show last summer. Click here and scroll down to see some pictures from my earlier post. Again, a combination of quotidian materials is combined with light and an artist's perspective to challenge the limits of visibility in beautiful and astounding ways.

On a photographic front, I've written a few times about the haunting work of Go Sugimoto. But there are others like Liz Deschenes, Adam Fuss, and Sigmar Polke who take the medium to the limits of visibility. Ms Deschenes in particular is an artist who explores the idea of seeing through the medium of photography. Her "Moiré" series and her "Black and White" photogram series both severely test what we expect and want to see in a photograph, and also ask us to second guess if we are seeing what we think we're seeing. They are great. Check out images of her work at her gallery, Miguel Abreu, but understand that this work MUST be seen in person to be grasped. If our eyes and brains can barely process it in person, then certainly a jpeg won't do it justice.

The parallel media I've been discussing have been thread and photography. Both are addressed in the work of two artists at one gallery, Virgil de Voldere in Chelsea. Artist Nancy Brooks Brody works in thread and Markus Hansen works in photography among other media. Mr. Hansen has a show up now that is right in line with the thoughts of this post. As described in the press release for the show:
"The six images in the exhibition were first prepared digitally, as montages worked in Photoshop and then drawn on paper with gouache, before screenprinting them with transparent ink onto unprimed canvases. Hansen then blows a luminescent powdered pigment across the surface of the wet ink, resulting in a mute beige-yellow surface. Barely perceptible in the light, the images become recognizable as the gallery darkens, the works glowing a soft blue."

Perfect! A thrice mediated photographic image that can only be seen in darkness. (In other exciting work, Mr Hansen does diptych portraits where there is a figure on the right combined with a self portrait on the left where he tries to mirror the internal affect of the sitter on the right. They are brilliant in concept and execution. He is clearly a deeply empathic artist. Take a look at his website here.)

Nancy Brooks Brody performs minimalist, rhythmic, geometric drawings on white paper using white thread as her mark-making tool. I find them lovely, meditative, and deceptively simple.

So where does all of this take me? I have no idea. I guess if I had more money, I'd be buying all of the above in order to live with the idea for a few years and see where that left me. Certainly every artist I've discussed in this post has been on my mind for at least a year. Absent that option, I take every opportunity to see the work in galleries and studios to find out whether the art lives in my memory even when I'm not seeing it every day. It also has me on the lookout for other work that adds to the opus I'm beginning to outline. It seems that almost invisible art that is this engaging casts an ever deepening shadow.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this article very much and especially the phrase, "almost not there." Work that requires heightened attention in order to perceive it's subtleties, is the type of work I strive to make and that inspires me when I see others doing it... It's a great relief that you feel this territory is not yet "discoursed out!" Whew!

    Many thanks for sharing your words.