Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Hypothetical Landscapes at Janet Kurnatowski Gallery

May 1 – 31, 2009
205 Norman Avenue in Greenpoint
Brooklyn, New York, 718-383-9380

installation shot of the exhibition under review
installation shot of the exhibition under review

Is there any material entity in this world that exists without a structure of some sort?  Arguably, the only time we ever truly escape the tangible element of structure is within our subconscious when we dream—although even there, Lacanians would argue, structure persists.  Exactly where the boundaries of the surrounding networks that immerse us lie are often not clearly defined or are so intertwined they shift seamlessly from one into the next.  The group show, “Hypothetical Landscapes,” (curated by Greg Lindquist) exhibits the work of eight different artists who create abstractions derived from physical systems that encompass us every time we open our eyes.  The artists — Miya Ando, Malado Baldwin, Don Gummer, Darina Karpov, Ati Maier, Dustin Schuetz, Rebecca Smith, and Suzanne Stroebe — create paintings and sculptures that carry a potency derived from the convergence of man-made networks with ones culled from nature.

Rebecca Smith Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica 2006. Painted steel, 62 by 84 by 9 inches. Courtesy of the artist
Rebecca Smith, Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica 2006. Painted steel, 62 by 84 by 9 inches. Courtesy of the artist

In this exhibition, the grid is often employed to approach this convergence.  In Midnight Audit and View of the Defeated, (both 2009) Dustin Schuetz uses the grid to position an individual outside of the incessant force of commerce.  Inspired by the lighted skyscrapers of Manhattan viewed from the rooftop of his Brooklyn studio, Schuetz paints dissimilar gridded columns of ominous greens and yellows.  The groupings of squares and rectangles have slightly different sizes that slowly reveal subtle shifts of depth.  The paintings align themselves with Sarah Morris’s colorful gridded canvases that reflect the repetitious geometry of modern architecture.  However, unlike Morris, who places you up close and often within the structure, Schuetz’s perspective is at a distance and nocturnal.  This distance creates a sense of voyeuristic isolation as you peer from the shadows at structures of economy, and their interminable movement under the pulse of florescent lights.

Rebecca Smith’s Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica (2006) begins with a contradiction.  At first glance, the latticed network of flat steel bands, painted blue, and extending off the wall about one foot, has an airiness that is nowhere near the bulk and power of its eponymous glacial shelf. However, this grid is a fragmented one and the negative spaces in between Smith’s intersections and twists of metal stimulate contrasting feelings of largeness through lightness and expansion amongst fracture.  Although glaciers are dense and forceful entities, they also possess a nature that is inherently ethereal as they are made from water, float in our seas, and are disappearing rapidly.  The sculpture’s design brings to mind ideas of city planning, infrastructure, and the human movement occurring through these channels (all contributors to glacial melting), yet, as the piece floats by itself off the wall, it is also a disconnected fragment.  Through the use of metal, air, and our understanding of the grid, Smith sets up a system of contradictions to reference a seemingly solid structure, which could vanish tomorrow.

Don Gummer’s sculpture, San Ambrogio over Santa Maria delle Grazie (2004) excavates structural concepts from the past and reinvents them in a contemporary manner.  By superimposing the floor plans of two Milanese Renaissance churches, a matrical network emerges out Gummer’s reconfiguration of old ideas.  The overlapping 3 dimensional grids constructed from painted one-inch wooden rails, form a modular apparatus more congruent with pre-fabricated contemporary architecture than with the Vatican.  Gridded excavation is also utilized in Suzanne Stroebe’s freestanding sculpture, May I (2008).  Here the excavation comes in Stroebe’s collection of discarded objects – mostly fragments of wood one might find at a construction site.  The bits and pieces are upwardly assembled in a linear fashion calling to mind the figure while also referencing a torn electrical duct or a chunk of a building that has been blasted apart.

Darina Karpov Untitled IV (sudden appearances into vanishing) 2008. Watercolor and gouache on paper, 12-1/8 x 9 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Pierogi Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
Darina Karpov, Untitled IV (sudden appearances into vanishing) 2008. Watercolor and gouache on paper, 12-1/8 x 9 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Pierogi Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

Two works by Ati Maier, Push (2007) and Level Out (2008), allude to movement amongst molecular structures in surrounding air particles.  Here, nebulous events and explosions burst and swirl above a landscape of colorful gridded planes, reminiscent of an early Atari game.  A confluence of elements between the terrestrial and atmospheric occurs that is coincidental and ceaselessly fluctuating at an atomic level.  Further organic organization intermixes with human activity in Darina Karpov’s small watercolors on paper, Untitled IV (sudden appearances into vanishing) (2008) and The Trickster (2009).  With exquisite detail and soft coloring, Ms. Karpov creates a biomorphic system that creeps and twists across the paper’s surface like kudzu taking over a tree or landscape.  Embedded within her leafy networks are miniscule landscapes, warring figures, and linear sprawls referencing both veins and rivers.  On a scale that shifts from micro to macro, these works speak of the unavoidable marriage between struggle and the structures of growth.

Miya Ando and Malado Baldwin conjure ideas of environments tainted by the synthetic in a post-human age.  Ando’s (2009) fuses a minimalist landscape on a thin sheet of steel by adjusting the metal’s properties through lacquer, pigment, and patinas.  A sharp metallic horizon is formed carrying a carbonous black haze.  Baldwin’s ghostly abstracted vistas lack human presence of any kind except for the toxicity of their unnatural colors.

In this show of supposed landscapes, the question of what constitutes a landscape and where its boundaries are identified comes into question.  The work stems from the systems humans develop to navigate, control, and discern both their physical and perceptual domains as well as how these places intertwine with the design of nature.  In this way, a landscape is revealed where the natural world, the man-made realm, and the space of the mind coalesce.