the trees turned to shadows in a grey fog, Cole Sternberg’s latest exhibition at there-there is inspired by the 1912 book entitled ‘The Jungle and the Sea’ by H.L. Tomlinson. The book, considered a masterpiece of travel literature, depicts a Londoner's first ocean voyage and a traveler’s experience in Amazonia.
Sternberg continues his larger practice of examining the environment and pursuing narratives around humanity exploiting the earth’s resources and nature’s attempts to replenish. His paintings are created by intensive layering of the medium and dramatic exposure to the elements. A key trope throughout this body of work
is erasure. The works are left out in in the forest, succumb to the natural elements, rain, and wildlife. The organic components of the ground texture the works , and they’re dragged into the sea. The resulting paintings are transformed by the rigorous metamorphosis imposed by nature onto the picture plane.
Sternberg surrenders systemic approaches to composition and constructing pictures to the chance operations of environment factors to produce the paintings. As such, they are significant cultural artifacts of our time. Nature here negotiates style and form laid bare from the exposed elements onto the unprimed linen.
The paintings surround a tall, slim sculpture of a sapling tree. The tree reads as a totem, reliquary or memorial to the environmental crisis by conjuring the potential of impermanence paradoxically rendered in bronze. Its details are specific down to hairline cracks in the bark and throughout are pinhead nodules. It grows directly from the concrete, unfettered.
Anthony James’ newest works are rigorous experiments in paradox. The Water series paintings are anything but pure and elemental. It is the mixed and contradictory materials, techniques, and concepts that give these artworks their compelling hold over the viewer. The oppositions reconciled to create the uncanny effect of moving liquid stilled are many: centuries-old fine art hand skills and a high-tech machine, gesso and urethane, linen and motorcycles, the painterly and the photographic, van Eyck and Yves Klein. The work is dense with art historical references, beginning in the early fifteenth century with fine Belgian linen stretched taut and painstakingly coated with thin layers of gesso over a period of days, polished repeatedly to the smoothness of glass. When the paint is prepared, tone and hue are refined to create a set of graduated shades. Rather than crushed pigments and oil however, James uses Deltron automotive paint, a product that promises a factory finish. The original manufacturer of a gessoed canvas could be in Renaissance Bruges so this discrepancy of materials is trenchantly absurd. The paint is airbrushed across the canvas, an aerosolized burst applied in sweeping arcs. The different shades are layered, working from dark to light. The propulsion of wet on wet industrial enamel in a tone-gradient sequence creates the illusion of texture, of a streaming spray of droplets. The surface of the canvas takes on the appearance of liquid on glass, with each tiny bead and tear appearing to be elaborately contoured and volumetric when in fact the surface is silky flat. James has noted that the greatest impact of the illusion comes when the viewer touches the painting and the perception of texture is proven false. Airbrushing is intended to conceal and perfect and here it scatters flaws. The oldest trope of European painting is the victory of artifice over nature or the creation of a facsimile more entrancing than life. James’ Water series does this with elaborate material complexity at a time when mimesis has been fully dematerialized by the digital.
The silver Water paintings are particularly conceptually rich because of the parallels to photography’s grayscale. Not only does the imagery appear to have the opticality, the infinitely fine detail, of a camera’s view, the surfaces of the paintings have the sleekness of a photographic print. It is significant that James achieves these effects through various tactile, tangible processes, including historical, preindustrial ones. The work of Vija Celmins and Kim Tschang Yeul comes to mind as performing a similar reversion, but James’ work is more ambiguous about the separation of machine and hand, synthetic and sincere. The Water paintings aren’t returning to tradition, they’re colliding past into present, which seems apt for an artist who connects Kenneth Anger’s KustomKarKommando to Apelles and Zeuxis.
This work is chimerical, with the full meaning of that term as something both composite and fantastical. James has long been interested in ideals, such as Platonic geometry or the quiet order within nature. At the same time, his work opens outward to the viewer and therefore accepts the entanglements and dissonance of our moment. Purity is an illusion. The timeless, cleansing rain evoked by James’ paintings is artificial. The viewer can encounter the work through a meditative fascination with its lucid intricacy – the eternal and universal behavior of water. And the aesthetic pleasure of this is intense. But to read it as only beautiful or mystical is to miss the logic of contradiction that gives the work its conceptual strength, the spray of toxic industrial paint onto an object recognizable to any old-master artist’s apprentice.
Therefore, in a larger sense, this work presents an argument for combination and exchange over homogeneity and conformity. James’ new mode of painting can be read as a critique of easy simulation, of virtuality, in relation to both traditional illusionism and the digital. By layering contrasting material processes to create a seeming unity, a surface of streaming water, these works insist on the real over the hyperreal and on the assembled, heterogeneous, contested nature of that reality.
September 12th 6-9pm
The paintings of Max Jansons are deceptively ornate, whether overtly in the luxuriant bouquet works or more obliquely in the abstract color studies and Pop-style compositions. Folk art, art nouveau, ornamental cubism, and candy-colored, retro design are some of the references Jansons work recombines, creating thematic groups of paintings that elaborate upon one another. The abstract works have certain repeating motifs like the triangle, which is used either as a central image or in multiples within a canvas. The abstracts that depart from the triangle imagery have a sort of technicolor Cubism – dynamic geometric arrangements of color and pattern.
There is variation in painting approach both between works and within single compositions. Impasto strokes are used within the boundaries of flat design, as in textured strokes inside a sharply delineated vine leaf, a segment of striped triangle, or the vase in a still life. Selected works at first appear to have the smooth surface of slick Pop, but instead have visible strokes that follow the forms, amplifying an element or thickening of an individual detail. These works also play with transparency and color layering, with subtle tonal changes.
Joseph Albers-style formalist color experiments applied to habitual subject matter is a humorous proposition that suggests Jansons’ work may have an element of satire. This mode of the Pop- absurd can be located in the abstract and floral works which may have a valence of ironic pastiche, as if to say, ”You want pretty? You want décor?” Warhol was a master of this provocation, screen printing flowers to anticipate the demand for pleasing imagery or taking the banal, likable genre of pastoral landscape and turning it into cow wallpaper, a wry send-up of the middle- brow taste for bucolic, rustic nostalgia. To give Jansons credit for having a contemporary, conceptual perspective would be to see the possibility of critique within the beautiful flowers, and approachable abstracts. Jansons paints with great attention to surface, form, and
color, embedding this observant exploration of his medium within frolicsome pictures of harmony and bounty. These agreeable pictures may harbor a charismatic wit that asks the viewer to consider if they have to like what they see.
Max Jansons on Animal Style at there-there:
All the subjects that I use in my work ultimately provide me with a vehicle to engage with the language and history of painting. Gesture, line, color, surface these are the words that write the story. My subjects often act as a touchstone or a way into the painting. Within my work I enjoy constantly shifting the lens. How a flower can become an abstraction, a still life can transform into a landscape, a geometric shape can become almost organic. Those are things that interest me. The connections you can make, how you can redefine things, shift your perceptions, and change the way you see the world. Thats what I feel a painting can do. It helps you to see the things around you in a different way. Or at least helps you to notice the things you’ve missed or passed by.
Frank Stella said "What you see is what you see.” That is not really the case with my work. In a way I create certain expectations by choosing common painting subject like still-life, portraiture, abstraction, but I often “flip the script” within the painting, and lead myself to places I was not expecting. I like being able to approach my paintings from a multitude of perspectives, this often uses the paintings as a means to escape and go somewhere else.
The history of painting is an important subject of my work. I grew up in NYC, in Soho, my father was a painter. I grew up immersed in the history and language of painting. It is something that is a natural part of the way I approach and think about the visual world. In a way I view everything around me through the lens of painting. I will reference other artists or there work in unexpected ways within my work. A vase can make use of a Vasarely abstraction, a Stella abstraction can be transformed into a Flower, doing this allows me to deal with time and expand visual definitions.
The presence of the hand is something I value. Its something you often loose in this digital age. I firmly believe in the power of the the handmade. I believe it communicates a vulnerability and a very human experience. The nuanced brushwork and subtleties that reward a close and intimate look and engagement with the paintings are something that are important to my work. How the light glides over the brushwork in the painting activates it and helps to create a complete experience. It is
something I am obsessed with. The materials I use tie everything together. Even the handcut steel tacks from England I use to stretch my canvas set the stage for whats to come. They are an antiquated way to stretch a canvas, but I find their materiality satisfying and pounding each one in by hand allows to be begin to connect with the work I am about to start. I use paint sourced from rare sources, and from companies that no longer exist, mediums made from aged oils, all of these bring physical qualities to the work that I desire and allow me to engage in a different way of being. I take a certain amount of satisfaction in taking these old, antiquated materials and finding new meaning in them.
I will be showing some new larger scale paintings. I have been developing and working towards them for a while. The subjects and themes remain consistent, the scale is very different from the more intimate scale that I have been working in. They become much more of a physical experience.
About the artist: Max Jansons was born in New York City however, lives and works in Los Angeles, California. He received an MFA from Columbia University, New York and his BFA from University of California at Los Angeles. He has had twelve solo shows and has exhibited in galleries in the US and abroad. He has been reviewed in The LA Times, The New York Times, Artforum, and was named among other important LA based painters in Christopher Knights list of "45 Painters Under 45” in the Los Angeles Times.
Max Jansons work focuses on paintings’ ability to engage the viewer in an intimate way and create an unfolding and thoughtful visual experience. He works from various subject matter within the same body of paintings, using both representational and abstract images. Jansons has expanded on an ongoing investigation in the tradition of still-life painting while imbuing his paintings with art historical references. His works can include a vase of flowers, a portrait of childhood hero, sailboats, or abstract shapes and visual objects that play a role in his daily life. The history of painting is folded into the subject of his work as he is a passionate student of art history. Jansons explores that relationship in multiple ways, but especially with the use of his painterly gestures and diverse brush work, timeless materials such as linen primed with lead, paints ground in aged oil and pigments whose sources are rare to find. The process of reinvigorating historical tropes by utilizing a very deft facture of expressionist painting and the celebration of complex color combinations is a central theme to Jansons work.
Animal Style is presented at there-there in collaboration with Five Car Garage.
Landscape, technology, solitude, and wonder are the experiences Bob Gunderman brings to his work, where they emerge on canvas as a disorienting admixture of biomorphic or totemic forms and raw paint. Interstellar space and arctic night, bleached high desert and dark seabed, Glocks and children’s cartoons are some of the elements that may appear in glimpses and shards in his paintings. The fusing of multiple vantage points and different moments heightens the kaleidoscopic effect. What may have been an astronaut’s helmet, a crag of cliff, a gun scope, the globular body of a creature, or the rays of sun or sonar spin out through the momentum of paint to become something else equally malleable and uncertain.
Part of this disorientation is that very few of the paintings include spatial cues, making resolving the elements into a pictorial scene impossible. Because of the almost familiar, almost organic contours and colors, the viewer feels compelled to scan the compositions for a resolution – however subjective and speculative. The viewer may conjure a horizon, machine parts, ocean shells, machine gun shells, night sky, and expanses of sand, or is that skin? This shifting array of references and resemblances is held together by gestural painting: outlines and adjacent
areas of differing pattern, color, and facture provide structure, staying on the side of abstraction while hinting at imagery. Gunderman counts Phillip Guston and Arthur Dove as influences and viewers may see affinities with Marsden Hartley and early Mark Rothko as well.
The patchwork compositions and themes through which Gunderman works make perfect sense considering his biography. His visual imagination was awakened by the surreal absurdity of early Looney Tunes animation, specifically the stylized, often lush backgrounds behind the antic action. After this comes the view down a gun sight, as Gunderman became a soldier, a small- arms specialist at FORSCOM, the center of U.S military special operations focused on rapid- response expeditionary deployments. As part of a unit trained to be anywhere in the world in less than 24 hours, Gunderman was required to stay close to base at Ft. Bragg. This made for formative contradictions – confinement and waiting, with the random possibility of extreme urgency and intensity. It is under these conditions that he started to paint. Gunderman would go on as an art student to focus instead on performance work, favoring critical, transient expression over traditional objects. He became a collaborator in organizing alternative exhibition spaces outside of the established gallery circuit and eventually cofounded what would become the major Los Angeles gallery ACME, with the aim of supporting emerging artists and abjuring market fads.
Add to this unique background a penchant for making expeditions alone to remote and dramatic environments from the arctic to the jungle, and one gets some explanation for the paradoxical sharp ambiguity that characterizes Gunderman’s paintings. Intrigued by things that exist outside of human time – galactic space, eons-old creatures, and remote landscapes – Gunderman also draws from his multiple lives – sharpshooter, science enthusiast, Angeleno, art-world mentor, and prodigal son of painting. This is the flowing complexity that one finds in the work.
May 19 – June 23, 2018
May 19, 6-8pm
Patrick Braden Woody’s art describes the presentness of memory, its startling touch, not memory as willed contemplation, but as a reflex reaction that pierces intention and perception. To be mothered is to be porous with little holes that let memory (and its illusions) through with an intensity that consciousness buffers and absorbs for other aspects of the past. Woody seems to use some of these holes to stitch through and even to thread back from the current self to the mother past and present. This sewing up, reattaching, tying off, and creating new loose ends is more tangled than reparative, but it does allow for active engagement and reworking.
This analogy is particularly apt for describing Woody’s art in that the fabric crafts he learned from and still practices with his mother are an important material and metaphorical aspect of his work. Embroidery, quilting, mending, and children’s dress-up games are the realm of the maternal culturally and symbolically. And Woody’s circumstances are rich for exploring in terms of maternal legacy. Raised in a conservative military household by an evangelical single mother who is also a master seamstress, Woody’s expressions of his queerness were rejected and constrained, confined to the home and to sharing in domestic, feminine handcrafts. In adulthood, this contradictory bond has become artistic collaboration, with Woody describing his mother Patricia Gould as his primary collaborator.
Woody’s work combines archival and restaged memories with abstract graphic renderings of key references, from the broken-shard geometry of quilting to the symbol of negation, obscenity, and genetics of the cross-stitched “x” – “xxx” “xx”. Embroidered numerals “6” and “9” merge the Christian code for evil with sex slang – “666” “69.” Textiles knit by his mother have served as hiding places or shrouds in performance work. A personal letter she wrote to her son is full of prayers but also a vision of “a deadly ending” in the form of AIDS. It is signed with a smiley face and the closing, “I love you precious one.” This tormenting combination of love and censure, intimacy and dogma, shapes much of Woody’s art. Woody sews a copy of a prayer sampler made by his mother, but he drains it of color and mounts it on chain link like a “Keep Out” sign. He sews the word “Mom” across his palms in black thread and kitsch lettering, transforming wholesome sentimentality into a repetitive act of self-wounding. The word recurs in the form of a branding iron, with stark letters rendered in rough black metal and attached to a handle, ready for fire and then skin. One of Woody’s most compelling works is by his mother, a polaroid photograph of the artist as a young child wearing a hair bow, high-heeled shoe, lipstick, and a shy but lively smile. The image is beautiful and playful, a picture of love, anxiety, and longing that foreshadows the probing reciprocity of Woody’s work as an artist.
Patrick Braden Woody (b. 1988, Colorado Springs, CO) graduated from California Institute of the Arts in 2011 and has since lived and worked in Joshua Tree, CA, Los Angeles, CA, and Colorado Springs, CO. Woody’s multidisciplinary practice explores the psychopathological effects of homophobia in the U.S. through the context of his relationship with his mother and primary collaborator, Patricia Gould. Woody has recently exhibited at PANEL, Los Angeles; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC; High Desert Test Sites, Joshua Tree; Business of Art Center, Colorado Springs, Kunstverein Letschebach, Karlsruhe Germany; and Sunday Gallery, Los Angeles.
JILLIAN MAYER SURVIVALIST ART / OPENING RECEPTION 6-8pm APRIL 7, 2018
Jillian Mayer’s exhibition entitled Survivalist Art functions as a kind of showroom of prototypes for art in a state of emergency.
Jillian Mayer’s approach to our electronically mediated condition is burlesque, a whimsical but incisive staging of the awkward physicality and state of distraction that accompany use of tech devices. The artist’s Slumpies are part furniture, part sculpture, designed for sitting or reclining in a way that configures the body for comfort while holding a mobile phone. They are also large, irregular, roughly textured blob forms, many with odd excrescences and pockets and lumpy, tubular bars or rings. This reads as a droll critique of the slick ergonomics of modernist design, the clean, sharp lines of silver metal and pale wood, the white and grey austerity. Slumpies are painted like a children’s art project in bright pastels and neons, metallics, and glitter. The result is like a crash between a Lynda Benglis and an Andrea Zittel, perhaps creating a pile-up with Niki de Saint Phalle and Marta Minujin. This is a pleasing and witty collision. Also, because the objects look like the ersatz rocks in zoo exhibits as vandalized by a club kid, gallery visitors who occupy the artworks tend to resemble creatures on display in an artificial habitat, performing their most typical behavior (staring at a hand-held screen) for observers.
One of the most evocative aspects of the Slumpies is the materials from which they’re constructed and their consequent functionality. Made of fiberglass, epoxy resin, and Amazon Prime cardboard boxes, the Slumpies offer not only a surreal mode of posture support for staring at a screen, they also float. This comical and endearing feature seems aimed satirically at ecological crisis. If coastal art centers (the artist’s own Miami, or New York, or Los Angeles) are inundated by rising sea levels or mega storms, lucky art lovers might survive – and keep texting – using these awkward, colorful rafts. The tethering to electronic experience that Mayer’s Slumpies and painting both depict is also represented in the use of the Amazon boxes, which are emblematic of virtual consumption. These boxes represent access from anywhere to an infinity of products, a complete temporal and geographic dislocation of object consumption that parallels the total access to information or communication via the internet. Amazon boxes are ubiquitous symbols of globalization, so integrating these into evidently singular, hand-wrought, eccentric interactive objects reworks the darkly banal debris of hyper-capitalism into an aesthetic and embodied encounter.
A key art historical influence on Mayer’s work seems to be historical Pop, which is grounded in commercial and industrial design, including the appropriation of trends in illustration like the simulation of naive abstraction in rendering the figure. Pop is full of schematic bodies and flat silhouettes in equally cursory or cartoonish environments. Mayer’s paintings parallel this playful neglect of detail and depth in favor of formal punch and antic, irreverent subjects, primarily our constant use of personal technology devices. The simplified figures in candy colors evoke Pop artists like Evelyne Axell or Kiki Kogelnik. Unlike art about electronic alienation based in anxiety over a dystopian future, Mayer’s paintings offers a sympathetic caricature of how this alienation makes us appear in the present.
Another extensive body of work consists of improvised emergency gear of very questionable functionality. Mayer offers an MFA’s version of survivalist equipment where camouflage and olive drab are replaced with painterly purple, rose, and teal washes on “tarps” and “ladders” made of loose, hand-twisted cloth. The aesthetic is Arte povera + Urban Outfitters + doomsday prep. This is a sendup of our current condition of bracing for apocalypse. The futile versions of objects designed to insure self-sufficiency speak to America’s atavistic individualism as a ridiculous – even dangerous – ideal. The messy, ineffective camping supplies look like the debris left behind by an art student rapture cult (that endured for less than a week before giving up and going home). Like much of Mayer’s work, these tools against catastrophe are mordantly humorous, but they are also darker than her approach to our dependency on screens. Reflecting our anxiety over the increasingly hazardous misrule to which we are hostage, Mayer’s “emergency” works may be fanciful, but they are also ominous.
- Rachel Baum
Jillian Mayer is an artist and filmmaker living in South Florida. Mayer’s work explores how technology and the internet affects our identities, lives and experiences. Through videos, online experiences, photography, telephone numbers, performance, sculpture and installation, her work investigates the tension between physical and digital iterations of identity and existence.
Her video works and performances have been premiered at galleries and museums internationally such as MoMA PS1 MoCA:NoMi, BAM, Bass Museum, the Contemporary Museum of Montreal with the Montreal Biennial, and film festivals such as Sundance, SXSW, the New York Film Festival and over fifty others. She was recently featured in Art Papers, ArtNews.
LA SALON / OPENING RECEPTION 6-8pm FEBRUARY 24, 2018
Aaron Wrinkle carefully pauses and rewinds the drive towards conceptual negation that has propelled art since the ‘70s. The intention to embed critique within the artwork can become self- reflexive. Contemporary painting is expected to demonstrate its social-analytical relevance in a way similar to how mid-century painting had to demonstrate its autonomy. Contemporary critics tend to demand that painting in particular be aware of its art historical deaths and that it prove its right to an afterlife through either canny self-deconstruction or delivery of discursive content (communicating a message). After over fifty years of valuing dematerialization, the interrogation of artistic context, and the skeptical analysis of creative subjectivity, we are somewhat suspicious of the combination of painting and pleasure. And yet, paintings by definition have affect, a somatic projection composed of the residues of their embodied making (materials, touch, gazes). These resonate for the engaged viewer in a way that is more mordant and haunted than can be contained by explanation.
Wrinkle’s development as an artist was shaped by picturaphobia. His art school training in the anti- object values of conceptualism directed him towards performance, curatorial collaborations, and ephemeral installations. In adding a rigorous painting practice to these media of refusal and examination, Wrinkle does not intend to leave behind the art of ideas, but rather to experiment with painting as a vehicle of many related principles such as art historical confrontation, the constraints of found materials, and thinking about embodiment.
Conceptual artists have informed Wrinkle’s work continuously, notably Douglas Huebler and Dan Graham. He has taken these artists’ agnosticism in relation to painting as a challenge to integrate, if not reconcile, semiotics and expression. Wrinkle offers, “Michael Asher once stated he didn't understand how painting could be conceptual. I find that to be a realistic approach – a question to figure out.” This poker-faced interpretation of negation as an invitation to inquiry is part of the humor of Wrinkle’s painting. It’s art historical quotations are about learning and play rather than collecting dead things. The material frankness of the simplified color studies and the awkward textures and dimensions of the previously used canvases looks like the result of an Intro to Modernism correspondence course conducted by mail – in a good way. The approach is not naïve, but it’s open-ended. Strategies of sincerity are usually either ironic or a sign of oblivious privilege. Wrinkle navigates around those snares precisely through trial and error, by posing visual questions, and by ignoring the premise that thesis and feeling are mutually exclusive.
SALOMON HUERTA STILL LIFES / JANUARY 6-FEBRUARY 10, 2018
Huerta’s painting style is in the tradition of Pop realism, where the textures of the visible are smoothed out and the contours sharpened with a somewhat flattening, graphic effect. These simplified surfaces with clear but creamy edges are often rendered with paint that thickens and swirls unexpectedly in a background passage of the picture. Huerta’s facture has a dimensionality that exceeds the modest illusionism of his depictions. The artist has described how a dense opacity of paint can create an internal glow and this is evident in the still life works in particular. These paintings suggest Giorgio Morandi with the light of Southern California rather than Northern Italy.
Huerta’s body of work includes many portraits without faces – masked luchadores, figures with heads turned away or cropped out. His still life paintings are faceless portraits in their own way as well, both self-portraits and evocations of the artist’s father. In place of the father’s likeness are memory- objects – startling, mundane, and elegiac. The repetition between paintings suggests memory itself, reiterations of something experienced that changes in the retelling. Each time, on a corner of table that shades from cool gray to rosy cream, two or three items sit, one of which is always a wood-handled pistol. The gun rotates across the various paintings, turning each time on the table, but always at rest, casting different densities of shadow. The other item is food or drink – milk, water, an apple, a nopale cactus pad. The gun is Huerta’s father’s and the artist would bring the refrigerios to him and place them on the bedside table, alongside the weapon. The still life objects are an austere ofrenda. The father is to be served and appeased in exchange for his powers to provide and guard. The pistol surprises the viewer, but does not seem to signify threat. It is intimate rather than aggressive. This is an oblique and biographical reference to living in Boyle Heights and to the protection of family in an environment of violence.
Luchadores are theatrically brave, an entertaining performance of male conflict. The masks of the fighters resemble the ski masks of criminals, but festively colorful. As with the recumbent pistol, these strange covered faces read as masculine power without danger. Presenting Chicano pop culture and daily life with sensitive conversance, Huerta’s look at the familiar – both personal and cultural – is a challenge to our moment of oppressive stereotypes and objectification, of grotesque fantasies of separation and difference such as “beautiful” border walls. Huerta’s work is framed by our nation’s grim and painful backlash against brown skin and polyglot communities, against affinities and attractions, shared ideas and desires across traditions. Salomon Huerta’s work stands on its own as rich and allusive reflection on identity, but it stands out right now as a reserve of humane nuance in a time of vicious regression.
ANTHONY JAMES / OCTOBER 6-DECEMBER 31, 2017
Anthony James’ work takes up the concepts of the universal and transcendental in order to demonstrate the impossibility of their representation. The historical cosmology of Plato is a primary inspiration, both for the sculptures of icosahedrons and for the silhouette of Baroque architect Francesco Borromini’s dome for Sant’Ivo in Rome. Colorful rings of neon nod to the ancient concept of the universe as a set of concentric planetary orbits.The effect is both esoteric and industrial, orphic and distinctly concrete. Modern art historical references abound as well – Bruce Nauman, Ellsworth Kelly, Minimalism – but the artist’s attention is on the wonderment and possibility presented by distant ideals.
Borromini was an adept of Neoplatonism and the designs of his buildings are expressions of its celestial symbolisms. Platonism posits a universe of ideal order and form accessible to reason.To echo this order and those forms in the material human realm is to attempt to synchronize our chaotic mortal world of appearances and sensations with the models of perfection attainable through the intellect. James’ sculptures and wall installations are representations of these metaphysical models. Because depiction of something beyond experience is impossible, James’ artworks have a peculiar sensibility, the melancholy precision and intentness of simulations.
The immersive, fluid convexity of space in Sant’Ivo becomes a thin, curved plane in metal hammered by hand to a muted sheen. It is the dome’s miniaturized, materialized shadow. Borromini’s revolutionary twisting star design has fallen into the present as a dark, contoured plane of steel that nonetheless retains some of the grace of the architectural original in the curves and points along its edges.
Icosahedrons – the geometric globes of twenty identical triangular facets – were a mathematical experiment in unity used by Plato to demonstrate an ideal compositional system of perfect symmetry in three dimensions. In a twenty-first century gallery space, the glass, steel, titanium, and LED structures bring a rigid and gleaming tangibility to the abstraction of the numerical calculation of flawless coherence. James’ objects are compelling approximations, facsimiles of understanding and belief thou- sands of years old that come down to us on our own terms of modern metals and technological light.
The neon spectrum works that provide the title for James’ exhibition are particularly poignant in the tension between references, effects, and materials. The Absolute Zero works are meticulously calibrated spectra of colored neon tubes arranged in concentric circles to evoke the radiance of sacred enlightenment.The hue and intensity of the colors are designed to create white light.The historical references here span empirical experimentation with prisms to the image, across cultures, of the universe-wheel. Neon is already in our time a somewhat outworn material and the visible wires and plugs that trail from the vibrant rings interrupt any illusions of transcendence.This is the paradox that James’ objects show, a formal certainty and perspicuity (exact symmetry, white light, accurate shape) that registers a loss of purity or autonomy or wholeness. His works illustrate ideals, but they themselves are very contingent and actual, particular, not universal: they are for today.
Anthony James "Fabulism," Fort Gansevort May 18th-July 8th
5 Ninth Avenue NYC 10014