It’s always interesting to see how different generations of artists reinterpret the art movements and artists of the past. Our fascinations for particular times, periods and people feed into our present preoccupations, needs, wants and fears. Not only are some of the artists in this show working with abstract painting’s shifting relationships with different media, they are negotiating the dimensions and distressed surfaces of the former church which houses the Zabludowicz Collection.
And of course a show that intends to “… strain at the boundaries of painting’s history and physicality….” comes already weighted with lineages going right back to post-war European abstraction, Minimalism and its immediate ancestry. Take Ned Veda’s direct quote of an early Stella from the Marriage of Reason and Squalor period for example. He has bleached out those famous striations that echo into the centre and then back out to the paintings edges. Both Veda’s paintings here seem to be bleeding from their middle, emanating eerie purple stains of Garvey ink. Right next to Veda, Nathan Hylden creates icy layers of monochrome Ben-Day Dots that suggest photographic reproductions of unevenly plastered wall or painterly grounds ‘brushed’ over with phantom-like gestural signs, all sort of ‘freeze dried’ here on shiny aluminium.
Tauba Auerbach’s work is full of echoes both physical and historical. The canvas suggests it has been folded many times over, ever tighter in on its self and then re-stretched to reveal its scarred history. This deconstruction of the Modernist obsession with the picture plane reminds one of the Supports and Surfaces movement. It was in Paris during the 60s that Simon Hantai conceived of a process driven approach to painting combining pigments with canvases folded and knotted. He then reopened and stretched them revealing intricate patterns adhering directly to the canvas’ weave, sizing and folding. But here on closer inspection we find that the sumptuous brown of Auerbach’s picture plane, swimming with endless blends of golden geometries, could easily be illusory representations of these folds; both ghostly and seductive.
Michael E Smith uses ‘lowly’ T-shirt and sweatshirt material on which he applies delicate marks, all suggesting the torso of the human body in scale. In contrast Sam Falls presents a giant hanging piece suspended from the high ceiling and falling (but not quite) to the floor, effectively dividing the ground floor space. Six black circular imprints rise enigmatically through its dark grey centre like smoke rings. The material is slightly transparent and wispy, emphasising the physical tension between its inherent ephemerality and its grand architectural scale.
Alex Hubbard sends us up a winding stair case into a darkened room where echoes of Gordon Matta Clarke’s architectural interventions of the 70s collide with a low budget ‘slasher’ movie. We watch a film of a darkened room as a chainsaw slowly removes a back wall allowing harsh light to incise hard edged white lines into the wall. It gradually forms oblongs and circles that are finally pushed through, creating bursts of colour and a sudden flood of light that overwhelms the camera lens with the random effects of overexposure. We pass out onto the balcony circle where two wall based flat screen monitors show (filmed from above) amorphous, usually hand sized objects, being dropped into trays of what looks like grey paint. The objects gradually sink into the gunk. An arm occasionally reaches out with a squeegee to flatten out the paint and remove all traces of ‘what lies beneath’, so to speak. This is accompanied by a soundtrack that feels like a random set of background noises and atmospheres lurching from backyard suburbia to windswept hillsides; both an invocation of memory and a playing out of its loss?
In Jessica Dickinson’s work we may be able to sense the presence of Fontana’s Spatialism. Dickinson invokes the wall and the fresco as a place to record traces of activity that puncture the picture plane. In Full-See delicate applications of blues are absorbed in various densities into a limestone on polymer ground. This surface is then aggravated by thousands of tiny incisions that picking at the chalky surface create a teeming sense of energised space.
Rosy Keyser even manages to ‘Camp up’ some post war European angst! The base materiality and the inclusion on the picture plane of non-art materials that Greenberg was so committed to eradicating from his fresh faced, all-American version of Modernism are here summoned up and unleashed! The work of artists like Burri and Tapies that was extended in New York by artists like Scarpitta, is reconfigured here in explicitly theatrical terms. Keyser’s piece Eve’s First Confusion Between Penises and Snakes has literally been placed ‘centre stage’ on a raised floor space that once could have been the platform for the sermons of Methodist preachers. The piece itself consists of remnants of what looks like mangled canvas unravelling over a bare stretcher frame of very human scale. This ravaged form seems to be ripping itself away from the frame to the right; or is it clinging on for dear life? A snake’s skin wrinkles along the bottom of the stretcher. Keyser’s other offering, Moby Dick, suggests both the vacant lot and the barricade; a harsh 21st century take on the make shift walls of shanty town shacks and suburban hinterlands. But it is a strikingly refined piece of formal construction. Hard lines of corrugated steel are bruised by silver metallic paint. Polycarbonate, burnt and melted, falls over rusty steel corners that are bent inwards towards the centre of the work. All these fragments coalesce in a painting that is over human height, and sustains a powerful and disturbing presence.
The extra 0.5 of a dimension we get in this show is not so much about the protrusions of the paintings from their surfaces or the wall. Instead it’s an historical dimension and concerned with how other media (mostly photography and the impact of context and site) rebounds on the painting process here in the 21st century. I guess the question has always been this: Are these direct references to the past of the medium and importation of other media into its facture a crutch or new point of departure for abstract painting? These American artists, all born in or after 1975 still have plenty of time to find out!
Painting in the 2.5th Dimension is on until the 11th of August.