Raw/Cooked: Shura Chernozatonskaya at the Brooklyn Museum
January 27–April 8, 2012
Rubin Lobby and Beaux-Arts Court, 1st and 3rd Floors
200 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, (718) 638-5000
Shura Chernozatonskaya is the third Brooklyn-based artist to feature in the Brooklyn Museum’s yearlong Raw/Cooked series selected by an advisory board of well-known Brooklynites, including Ron Gorchov and Amy Sillman, and curated by Eugenie Tsai. The idea is mutually beneficial: the emerging artists get the chance to show their art in a major institution, and the Museum gets the work of five artists who have agreed to produce site-specific work that takes the museum space and collection into account. Russian-born, Red Hook-based Chernozatonskaya’s work featured in the Rubin Lobby and in the opulent Beaux-Arts Court.
The installation on the wall above the admissions desk consists of thirty-three rectangular canvases painted in primary colors and hung together in a line resembling that of a subway map. Each canvas has three circles painted-in like traffic lights. The line of the piece prompts connections with road signs but more literally a directory, appropriate to a location where visitors are handed tickets and a map. Not unlike the layout of the museum, or the carrel one stands in to wait for tickets, the line snakes around the wall in hard angles.
The installation continues on the third floor in the European Paintings Collection where Chernozatonskaya playfully mirrors different thematic sections, paying sharp attention to visual and cultural cues. Her graphic sensibility, with simplified geometric shapes and washy and opaque paint applications, connects with the sythnetic approach of Max Weber, for instance, in the section featuring Russian immigrants who helped to shape early New York modernism. “Art and Devotion,” which pays tribute to icons of the Christian tradition, sees the introduction of the hand print into Chernozatonskaya’s work, a symbol familiar in cave paintings and also linking with paintings in the exhibition where we frequently see a centralized figure. The circles by now familiar to her pictorial language turn themselves here into halos and a gold crown in this context. They create a kind of pictogram to echo the Madonna and Christ figures in the icons.
In a section titled “Painting Land and Sea” Chernozatonskaya’s evaporating forms reflect the dissipating color and light in landscapes depicting the break of day and bodies of water. But her intentions, like her forms, seem somewhat blurry.
In Land, red and yellow circles spring from a white circle, each surrounded by coronas of blue and black smears, suggesting, perhaps, the division between night and day. In Sea this same image is smeared even further into amorphous fluidity. But in the company of Manet and Cézanne, who they face like mirrors, what can such superficial appropriations reflect?
Her intervention in the “Tracing the Figure” section, on the other hand, with paintings that appropriate contemporary signs and symbols of male and female from walk signals or public bathrooms, is direct and precise. Placing Woman directly across from Picasso’s Woman in Grey (1942) is an obvious play upon historical abstraction of the female form. It suggests that, in our present period, both realistic figuration and pure abstraction have given way to investigation of iconography and representation itself as the primary motive in painting.
Brett Bachman and Anthony Palocci, Jr. are students of David Cohen’s in the writing program at Pratt Institute. Classmates Kara Fowler and Chris Ifould also contributed editorially to this review.