After Vasari

writings on artists and artworks and where they exist

Category: essay

Remembering Michael Mallory

by A.L. McMichael

Raphael Sanzio, School of Athens, 1510.

Raphael Sanzio, School of Athens, 1510.

 

Five minutes into Professor Mallory’s lecture on early Italian art, I was no longer a modernist. The thirteenth-century paintings we saw that day were not the sleek classicism I had expected to associate with clichés of perfection or rebirth. The shimmering gold of panel paintings, for instance, or the intrigue with which altarpieces were commissioned, all coupled with stories of processions and guilds were, frankly, kind of weird. I became fixated on how images that looked so strange to me at the time had been a backdrop for six hundred years of artistic tradition, and I emerged a committed medievalist.

Ostensibly, the class was old-school art history: lantern slides (using two projectors!) were projected across a large, dark lecture hall two evenings a week. But instead of a monologue, his lectures were discussions. I enjoyed participating in them for three semesters in a row as a Master’s student at Brooklyn College. In the decade since, I have taken my place behind the podium of my own college classrooms. From this new vantage point I’ve become increasingly impressed with his ability to conduct those classes as if it were an orchestra—taking several dozen undergraduate and graduate students’ worth of spontaneous responses and weaving them into a broad narrative arc that stretched across fifteen weeks.

On the first day of each semester, we received a photocopied handout: pages and pages of artists and their significant paintings. In true Vasarian fashion, artists were an anchor for the class. Over the course of each semester, we moved through the handout like a high school yearbook, getting to know each artist, first at a glance and then through techniques and peculiarities. Building up a social art history through anecdotes and close looking, we participated in a kind of sacra conversazione with these individuals across time and space.

Our reverence for the art historical canon was foregrounded, however, by Michael Mallory’s humor, both toward us (the motley crew of would-be Renaissance men and women in the stadium seating), and the artists themselves. Flipping through my decade-old spiral-bound notebooks this week, I found glimpses of gleeful reflections in the marginalia of my class notes: quips about “misbehaving monks” in the Fra Filippo Lippi section, or “composition in a weird shape,” referring to some Nativity, or (my favorite), a thought experiment about a “Giotto vs Duccio” showdown to play out in the index cards I made to study for exams. I distinctly remember standing in the Arena Chapel gift shop with some classmates over spring break one year, picking out a postcard to send to him and debating whether he might like a build-your-own cardboard model of the chapel. (He did!) His glee over repeated visits to these sites, through real-life trips and in-classroom conversations, was an enduring takeaway from those days—art was something to be enjoyed.

In true humanist fashion, he treated us with great dignity, even when we struggled to reach academic aspirations. I remember him quite willing to entertain an undergrad classmate’s far-fetched comparisons of Paolo Uccello to twentieth-century science fiction. We grad students snickered in the back row, but he used it as an opportunity for formal analysis and cultural critique. What a lesson for my own future teaching! In an old blue book I found where he scribbled cheerfully, “Wrong Madonna. That was Guido da Siena,” on an exam, a simple correction that nodded toward rigor but also let me save face, even though I was clearly way off base in my answer.

Many of us had day jobs and far-fetched aspirations; he honored all of them. During the first year of my MA studies I was working full-time as a temp, answering the phones at a major international bank (watching the financial crash unfold in real time, as it were), and taking classes that stretched late into the evenings. Professor Mallory never once chastised me when I had to duck out of class and take a quick walk around Boylan Hall to stay awake or when I came back with a Coke and a snack. Maybe he suspected that sometimes my pack of peanut M&Ms was dinner? The lesson there was that our education was worth it—that we, too, had a place at the academic table.

When I heard recently of Professor Mallory’s death, I selfishly regretted that I no longer have the opportunity to send him a copy of my soon-to-be-deposited dissertation with his name in the acknowledgements—I wanted him to be proud that I finally finished it. And I do hope that he was glad to see students go on to major or minor in Renaissance art, as many of us did.

Yet upon further reflection, I realize the more important nuance of his legacy is that these classes embodied a classic liberal arts education. By placing hundreds of students—graduate and undergraduate students alike, all of whom were members of one of the most diverse, urban, public school systems in the world—at the center of a centuries-old conversation between great artists in their political and social structures, he empowered us to engage with our own communities and to draw from humanistic training that was grounded in dignity and humor.

I’m sure I speak for a great many of those students, Professor Mallory, in offering thanks for your decades of hard work and infectious enthusiasm. We’ll all very fondly recall your ‘Vasarian’ lectures in that dimly lit lecture hall.

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Sometimes Seen Dreams

by Paul D'Agostino

Sometimes Seen Dreams: New Paintings by Dana James

In her most recent suite of mixed media paintings, Dana James employs alluringly deliquescent strata of oils, inks, dyes, encaustic and pigments in the creation of landscapes, seascapes, skyscapes and spacescapes that whisk you away into the turbid beyonds of ambiguously horizoned, chromatically enchanted elsewheres.

James’s lush palette of peachy pinks and deep blues, emerald greens and purpled greys, earthy oranges and icy teals, smoky blacks and creamy, pearlescent, ivory-scale whites calls to mind the teasing, fleeting, atmospherically supple theatrics of celestial candescence of certain seasons or at certain latitudes, and her nimble, almost imperceptible handling seems nearly to convey that these works were never manually made, but rather conjured into existence. We climb and we sail as we navigate these realms, and we swim and we float, we fly and we soar, we dash and we drift, and only occasionally and just barely do we alight upon some solid surface — perhaps an island or sandbar, a hillock or glacier — or encounter the circumstantially candid linearities of tenuous, fragile lines. If ever we’re grounded, the ground beneath us seems curiously aloft. If these spheres have gravity, they haven’t much. In James’s kingdom of elegantly fantasized ethers, the lands and skies themselves are the timeless castles.

These fresh and assertive paintings are James’s strongest work to date, and they are arresting and transporting all at once. If colors dream, this might be what they dream. Perhaps James sometimes sees these dreams.

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This essay was composed for the exhibition catalogue accompanying Dana James: Sometimes Seen Dreams, the artist’s solo show at The Lodge Gallery, on view from 18 October to 12 November, 2017. More information about the show can be found here. Images courtesy the artist and The Lodge Gallery.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

(UN)THINKABLE

by Paul D'Agostino

B-52 panorama

(UN)THINKABLE: Photographs by Phillip Buehler

Decommissioned bombers stretching deep into the horizon like a sea of their own entombment. A column of deactivated missiles among so many more of the same. A NATO bunker abandoned, vacant, save for the bales of hay that now inhabit it. Dormant jets by the dozens, patterned out like herringbone or houndstooth. Weapons mothballed due to desuetude, or to be reused for parts.

An underground bunker in New York City, now void of its nuclear-tipped Nikes. Missile nosecones whose hefty payloads each once tallied nine megatons. Uncle Sam wielding a bomb as cartoonish nose art on a plane. Switches and gauges logically arrayed in an inactive cockpit. A quasi-collage of plane ruins in Tucson.

B-52s. Titan IIs. Delta Darts. F-4 Phantoms. Fighting Falcons. Nike missiles. Interceptors and Intruders. Boeings with Snoopy noses.

A silo dome like a bizarre lump in the Sonoran Desert. Relics of a space race in Cape Canaveral. A rocketless oculus gazing up at the sky. Rusted nuts and bolts. Bafflingly basic.

Full of unsettled awe and unsettling grandeur, of sincere curiosity and documentaristic candor, of objective interest in the visual mystique of historical objects and the places where they rest, Phillip Buehler’s photographs of the technological and metaphorical trappings of warfare, of primarily Cold War-era relevance, are as strangely familiar and readily legible as the fallout shelter signs that continue to warn, intrigue, remind or perhaps scare us — as signs of a time that are also signs of a sign. Buehler was fascinated by those yellow signs as a youth, and that fascination has never waned. Here, he and they seem to convey much the same sentiment:

Regard, recall. Behold, beware. And be wary of what you recall.

For that which was once thinkable never really becomes unthinkable.

As such, (UN)THINKABLE is the title Buehler chose for his solo exhibition at Front Room Gallery, as well as for the volume of photographs he published to accompany it. In the show and to greater depths in his book, Buehler guides his audience from New York to Arizona, from Germany to Florida, from bunkers to boneyards, from hangars to silos — all the while making visible and sometimes eerily, dark-comically approachable many remnants of warfare that are generally far beyond view. Matters of public safety, as it were, not public consumption.

Buehler began shaping the core of this project several decades ago. How timely it would all become in 2017 is as shocking and frightening to him as it is to all of us. To be sure, not thinking about what might’ve once seemed unthinkable is truly not, again today, an option.

fallout shelter sign.jpg

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This essay was composed as the preface for (UN)THINKABLE, a book of photographs Phillip Buehler published on occasion of his solo show at Front Room Gallery. The exhibit is on view from 8 September to 1 October, 2017. More information about the show can be found here. Images courtesy the artist.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

David Byrd: Flicks, Bouts, Blocks

by Paul D'Agostino

Balcony With Screen, oil on canvas, 16″ x 21″, 1955.

 

Flicks, Bouts, Blocks

Flicks, Bouts, Blocks, curated on behalf of The David Byrd Estate in Sidney Center, NY, and hosted by Studio 10 Gallery in Brooklyn, features a chronologically and geographically particular selection of works in painting, drawing and sculpture by David Byrd, an as-yet lesser-known artist who passed away in 2013. Byrd’s personal story and, for so many decades, nearly ceaseless artistic activity form an inspiring testament to the unforeseeable turns one’s life might take, and to the many virtues of maintaining one’s creative drive.

Born in Springfield, Illinois, in 1926, and worker of all manner of odd jobs both before and after serving in the Merchant Marines and Army during World War II, then eventually finding fixed work as an orderly in the psychiatric ward at the Veterans Administration Medical Hospital in Montrose, New York, David Byrd lived a long, experientially rich, consistently difficult yet ultimately quietly, solitarily fulfilling life that made it neither easy nor obvious for him to even desire to express himself through art, much less become an almost astonishingly prolific artist. Yet artist he was, from his youth until his final days, and although he spent the vast majority of his creative years working in obscurity, he did have occasion to savor a few moments of fame and success thanks to a suite of exhibitions that were mounted in the months prior to his passing. Intending to build on Byrd’s budding legacy by exposing his work to a much broader public is David Byrd: Ten Stops, a multi-venue, bicoastal sequence of ten variably themed exhibitions to be mounted between July 1st and September 30th, 2017.

The Brooklyn installment of this ambitious series of shows is Flicks, Bouts, Blocks, a set of works culled together not merely to familiarize a New York City audience with Byrd’s artistic practice, but also to suggest that his many years spent living in Brooklyn, for a time as an adolescent and later on as a young adult, might well have imbued his creative sensibilities in notable, enduring ways. Notes of captured happenstance, for instance, and almost theatrically staged settings—of neighborhood encounters, of acquaintances and strangers in the streets, and of movie-goers, cyclists and Coney Island locales—are everywhere to be found in his paintings produced during and long after his Brooklyn days. One sees such tendencies as well in his many drawings of boxers throwing blows and lovers embracing, and in his now quickly, now meticulously executed sketches of individuals or situations he seems to have simply found strangely intriguing or peculiar. Many of these aspects of Byrd’s early work remain readily identifiable throughout the rest of his œuvre.

Unlike the paintings and drawings in Flicks, Bouts, Blocks, the one sculpture in the show does not date back to Byrd’s time in Brooklyn. However, the piece does seem to imply a later contemplation of the borough’s characteristic front stoops that must have been of certain importance to the ever-curious young artist—given all the people-watching they facilitate, all the variably lit staging they furnish, and all the visual cues they provide for structural delineations and physical forms. Also included in the show is one of Byrd’s earliest paintings, a piece that dates back to the artist’s period of study under Amédée Ozenfant, a noted French painter whose insights and mentorship would prove to be lasting fonts of guidance and inspiration for Byrd. This held true even several decades later, well after he had retired from his job at the hospital and retreated to his hand-crafted home and studio in upstate New York. There, mostly alone and at quite a remove from quotidian interactions and conveniences, Byrd was finally able to devote all of his time and energy exclusively to art, his most reliable conduit for self-expression and creative zeal, and his long-trusted mode of palliative distraction from painful memories of the many challenges life had dealt him.

Nevertheless, Byrd did manage to reserve some time and energy for one of his other great enthusiasms: bottle-collecting. Indeed, the long bottled-up artist who kept so much of his existence and so many of his struggles under wraps was also an avid collector of bottles. A fine one of those is included in this show as well—it too, like Byrd himself now, uncorked.

Toy Store, oil on canvas, 20″ x 24″, 1959.

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The above text is my essay for Flicks, Bouts, Blocks, an exhibition I curated at Studio 10 Gallery on behalf of The David Byrd Estate. It is on view from July 20th to August 6th, 2017. In addition to this exhibition, David Byrd: Ten Stops includes exhibits in Peekskill, Delhi, West Point, Franklin, Cooperstown and Seattle, as well as a large exhibit and a number of special gatherings at the seat of The David Byrd Estate in Sidney Center, New York. Detailed information and maps, along with a brief and charming video of the artist discussing his life and work around the time of its revelation to the public, can be found at www.davidbyrdestate.com

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Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

Themselves Productive

by Paul D'Agostino


Themselves Productive: New Paintings by Liv Mette Larsen

The more you become acquainted with the foundational forms and material underpinnings of Liv Mette Larsen’s works, the more you come to realize the generally uninterrupted extent to which they are all procedurally interlinked, conceptually interconnected, holistically and harmoniously cross-informed. The nature of this realization is perhaps ultimately the most abstract product of Larsen’s hand-pedaled, factory-like process that is itself generative, manually fabricational, iteratively productive.

One should not mistake any of the above as a suggestion that this now Brooklyn-based painter—Norwegian-born, then eventually NYC-bound by way of a period of teaching and artistic activity in Germany—presents her viewers with compositions full of visual convolution, nor that her pictorial processes and products register as even remotely mechanical. On the contrary, Larsen’s essentially representationally-driven forms are dimensionally simplified distillations of at times complex, at times relatively basic structures that stand as variably recognizable markers of place—localized neighborhood skylines, for instance, or readily distinguishable factories, as is the case in her series Concrete Factory / Slemmestad Fabrikker. Working from photographs or observation, Larsen breaks up, breaks down and flattens her chosen structures’ aspects and facets into a series of characteristic shapes, then carries them into so many lightly, almost happily handled compositional arrangements that serve as her platform to explore the chromatic richness and occasional quirks of her long-standing materials of choice—egg tempera on linen treated with rabbit skin glue.

Larsen’s largely earth-tone colors run a full yet quiescent range. She’s not shy at all about employing purples, yellows, oranges and greens to depict objects that might actually be just grey, in other words, but not even the brightest reaches of her palette shout or cry out. Rather, her colors murmur and hum like the low din of machinery, or like a calm flow of traffic along an urban block, maintaining nonetheless all the chromatic lushness and toothsome textures of the powdered pigments and egg mediums she uses to mix them into life. Backgrounds are sometimes the areas where Larsen allows colors to visually intermingle and bleed through one another, especially in her larger works. Consequently, her montages of middle- and foregrounded forms, often filled in with more uniformly viscous admixtures, begin to come across as depth-creating, footprint-stamping, colorful shadow-puppet-like characters—a troupe of implicitly post-industrial, meta-structural actors, let’s say, playing stop-motion roles of form-holders, chroma-bearers and spatial dwellers on some outdoor stage on a forsaken, extra-urban stretch of land, on a fall or spring afternoon in which mild temperatures and overcast skies cooperate to make the setting that much simpler to enthuse.

In Larsen’s creative landscape, some of the forms, colors, compositions and ‘characters’ she develops will then reemerge in kindred bodies of work. Shapes appear in different proportions in other paintings and collages; collages take color cues from paintings and watercolors; watercolors and collages inform compositional and chromatic choices in paintings. And of course, Larsen keeps an ever-sharp eye on how subtle shifts or surprises in one productive mode might lead her to insights in another. All this from regarding very closely and formally dismantling a building or two, then turning constituent parts into inputs for serialized processes made manifest in interconnectedly generative ways. A landmark fabrikk in Norway, as it were, becomes a manufacturer and remanufacturer of itself. And Larsen’s creative factory just keeps on humming. The characters in her plays keep doing their happy thing.

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This essay was composed for Liv Mette Larsen’s exhibition catalogue for Concrete Factory / Slemmestad Fabrikker, the artist’s solo show at Trafo Kunsthall in Trafo, Norway. Her show is on view from 6 May to 17 June, 2017. More information about the exhibit and Trafo Kunsthall can be found here. More information about Liv Mette Larsen is on her website, here. Installation image courtesy the artist and Trafo Kunsthall.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

Calling All Sorts: Gestures & Junctures, Questions & Quotes

by Paul D'Agostino

Gestures&Junctures-catalog-montage-pic

Calling All Sorts: Gestures & Junctures, Questions & Quotes

One artist’s operative modes, procedural preferences, concepts and contexts, and embedded or openly conveyed metaphors and meanings might be many and varied, and might change significantly over time or from one body of work to the next. Another artist’s perhaps less stratified or ranging approach to artmaking might appear to be far more focused, resolved or streamlined, its ultimate overall yields of ostensibly greater formal or material cohesion.

One artist, in other words, might seem to be all over the place, or to feel most inspired or challenged by working as such, while another might seem somewhat devoted to a specific creative locus, process or directional sense.

One artist’s creative output might look like an explosion. Another’s, hermetic and meticulous.

One’s work might seem nearly nonsensical. Another’s, resolutely rational.

One artist’s personality might be described as Type A, or whatever that’s called these days. Another’s might be described as Type B, or whatever that’s called these days. One artist is introverted, the other extroverted. One is left-brained, the other right-brained. One is instinctive, shoots from the gut. The other painstaking, pensive, cerebral.

And yet, such labels might serve little purpose. Personalities are far more nuanced than such descriptors generally allow, which is particularly true when it comes to discussions of artists—and when considering how and why they do what they do as agents of creative endeavors, as creators of cultural products.

Moreover, artists are rather contrary to being labeled. And rightly so. Who wants to be put in categorical boxes? Artists of all sorts, after all, are the people whose specialty is to think outside of them—much of which derives from posing good questions to answer, and finding good problems to solve.

In other words, to be an artist is to maintain an ever-inquisitive, problem-solving mind and creative disposition. For some artists, this is almost a passive act. For others, a firmly conscious, decisive one. Some artists pose questions and problems in a way that gives them rules to follow. Others throw rules out the window—perhaps even as a rule.

Some of the questions and problems leading eventually to artworks are veiled, implicit, unstated—so inherent to the creative process, even, as to be easily forsaken. For instance:

How would that field look if rendered in watercolors or graphite?

The other aspect of this particular idea about sexuality and art history has never been explored.

Can I carve a cloud with pink lining from a slab of marble?

The art world lacks and therefore needs my parodical video piece on the preemptive museumification of post-nuclear sound art.

Other questions and problems, meanwhile, are explicit, blatant, overt, perhaps even inscribed into the work itself so as to engage a viewer, if not society at large, directly. To be sure, such questions and problems can be of variable complexities, and they might well have no real answers or solutions.

What, then, of all this?

Most simply: It takes all sorts.

All sorts of artists, all sorts of artworks, all sorts of creative personalities, all sorts of approaches, all sorts of introversions and explosions, and of course, all sorts of questions and problems.

What has charmed me the most about working with the inspired and inspiring group of MFA students at Queens College is that they quite literally are, in a collective sense, all sorts. Some work in traditional media and processes, others in advanced technologies and social practice. Some dig into personal narratives and experiences to address complex issues of sexual, racial or national identity; others take creative cues from more directly visual sources, including urban environments, nature and folk traditions. Some seek to create active exchanges with their viewers, or to compel them to regard themselves as ‘other’ to foster understanding; others aim to inform or disarm their viewers by presenting themselves intimately, sincerely, provocatively.

Indeed, the wide range of inputs and pursuits relevant to this group of artists is readily conveyed by the terms they came up with themselves when asked, individually but within a group setting, to try to sum up their respective creative practices in just one word. Here’s what they offered:

chaos, exploration, pattern, connection, empathy, bound, experimental, digestive, emotional, nostalgia, descriptive, poetic, schizophrenic, narrative, weird, understanding, stillness, scientific, cliché, quiet, dignity, hungry

It was from the content of that initial discussion, and from a great many deeply enjoyable and reciprocally enriching studio visits, that I developed the ideas for Gestures & Junctures, Questions & Quotes, an exhibition that I hope does as much to showcase the breadth and quality of the artworks produced by this talented MFA class, as it does to incorporate its viewers into its intermittently audience-inclusive fold. To that end, what you’ll find in the show and in these pages is an array of variably mediated, often interdisciplinarily informed artworks that I have dared to describe loosely as ‘gestural’ and ‘junctural’—created with painstaking care or palpable explosiveness by one of the most driven, creatively variegated groups of art students I’ve ever encountered.

What you’ll also find in these pages are questions these students would like to pose—to themselves and to you—and quotes they’ve selected—for themselves and for you.

And now, for you, a note of advice with which I’ll conclude:

Don’t keep an eye out for these artists. Keep your eyes on them.

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The above text is my catalog essay for Gestures & Junctures, Questions & Quotes, an exhibition I curated for the CUNY Queens College MFA Program, on view at Sideshow Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, from April 7th-30th, 2017. Featured artists: Arbër Dabaj, Alejandro Salgado Cendales, Alix Camacho, Amy Cheng, Edward Majkowski, Effi Ibok, Eliesha Grant, Erin Turner, Floor Grootenhuis, Jeff Kasper, Jenna Makuh, Julian Phillips, Len Antinori, Maria K. Karlberg-Levin, Michael Ferris Jr., Nancy Bruno, Paula Frisch, Pedro Ventimilla, Tara Homasi, Uno Nam, Zaid Islam.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

Take Us Lying Down

by Paul D'Agostino

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Take Us Lying Down: Lisa Levy & Paul Gagner at Spring/Break Art Show

With just the right mix of awkward humor, self-effacement and intelligently irreverent seriousness to evade didacticism while making observations that are both piquant and relevant, Lisa Levy and Paul Gagner poke fun at and gainfully critique artists, the art world, art history, and people in general all at once—implicating all the while, perhaps even principally so, themselves.

Lisa Levy’s performative therapy sessions and related engagements with her audience are funny, to be sure, and at times pointedly cynical. But these same interventions are also sincere attempts at coming to an understanding of how people think, and of why they do the things they do—creative people, primarily though not exclusively. Through actions including a variety of performance pieces as well as her radio show, “Dr. Lisa Gives a Shit,” Levy gets into people’s minds and probes their pasts, not invasively but also not really pulling any punches. Her casually non-clinical approach—she’s not really a doctor, after all—truly caring disposition and well-honed humor are utterly disarming, indeed even charming, encouraging her interlocutors to open up in surprisingly candid ways. At the same time, all this ‘therapy,’ as Levy readily shares with her subjects, is also very much about her—about her own insecurities and shortcomings, about her own creative and social anxieties. In a most literal way, Dr. Lisa’s therapy sessions are also a therapy of the self.

Enter Paul Gagner, a painter whose past few years of output have resulted in scores of similarly amusing, self-reflective, art-refractive works of quasi-clinical criticality. Pictorial analogs to Levy’s practices with performative therapy, Gagner’s abstractly figurative paintings question the viewer’s and artist’s agency and mental stability all at once, yet in a way in which the humor is so blatant as to even factor into the painter’s own self-portrayal in many compositions, as well as in his rather intentionally chunky, at times almost clunky material handling. Most exemplary of these tendencies are Gagner’s paintings featuring ‘books’ that have been ‘written’ by a certain Dr. Howard Moseley, M.D., with disquietingly hilarious titles such as A Beginner’s Guide to Home Lobotomy, Coping With Imaginary Foes, and Do It Yourself Coffins. The absurdity of such titles, and of the goofball ‘book jackets’ Gagner creates for the volumes, make them invariable crowd-pleasers. At the same time, there’s a profound honesty to the works as well, as they must also be read as only subtly exaggerated expressions of Gagner’s own insecurities regarding his capacities as a painter and interpersonal savoir-faire.

Take Us Lying Down will bring the materially divergent yet conceptually linked practices of these two artists into spatial and interactive confluence. The setting will be a therapist’s office of sorts—complete with an obligatory chaise longue—where Levy will offer her ‘expert’ counsel to any and all passers-through who are willing to lie down for a few minutes and open up. Prior to engaging in such ‘sessions’ with Levy, however, visitors will have to navigate a bookstore-like ‘waiting room’ featuring a selection of paintings and faux Moseley volumes crafted by Gagner. Gagner himself will be there too, a kind of strange but friendly receptionist who happens to be surrounded by canvas-bound depictions of himself.

Visitors to Take Us Lying Down will be amused upon entry, then probed in the rear. And they’ll receive bespoke snacks and silly tchotchkes for all their ‘troubles.’ On levels literal and euphemistic alike, this fully realized apparatus of somewhat dark, generally humorous, in part charlatanic, overall sincerely empathic ‘therapeutic’ interactions quite fittingly reflects ‘black mirrored’ notions of self. Care to schedule an appointment?

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Lisa Levy is a conceptual artist, comedic performer, painter and self-proclaimed psychotherapist with a professional background in advertising. Her visual art has been widely exhibited at many venues, including The New Museum, The Bronx Museum, Pulse Art Fair, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Christopher Stout Gallery. Levy also performs live. Her most popular character is Dr. Lisa, S.P., who psychoanalyzes people on screen, stage and on the street, and whose ‘patients’ have even included celebrities such as Joe Gordon-Levitt and Amy Schumer. She currently hosts a weekly radio show called “Dr. Lisa Gives a Shit,” in which she conducts funny, emotionally revealing ‘psychotherapy sessions’ with creative guests.

Paul Gagner received his BFA from the SVA in 2005, and his MFA from Brooklyn College in 2009. He has exhibited throughout the US, including at Halsey McKay, Driscoll Babcock, Lesley Heller Workspace, The Maryland Institute College of Art, the Housatonic Museum of Art, and The Richmond Center for Visual Arts. Gagner has been featured in New American Paintings, Baltimore City Paper, Art 21 and Hyperallergic. The Museum of Modern Art holds a series of Gagner’s collages in its print collection. Paul Gagner lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
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This essay was composed as a curatorial statement for Take Us Lying Down, featuring Lisa Levy and Paul Gagner, on view at Spring/Break Art Show during New York Armory Week, from 28 February to 6 March 2017. Spring/Break Art Show’s location this year is 4 Times Square, 22nd and 23rd floors. Take Us Lying Down is situated in a duplex office setting on the 22nd floor, Suite 2246. More information about Spring/Break Art Show is here.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

Energies & Echoes

by Paul D'Agostino

Dumitru Gorzo, Energies & Echoes, 2016. Image courtesy Slag Gallery

Dumitru Gorzo, Energies & Echoes, 2016. Image courtesy Slag Gallery

 

Energies & Echoes: Recent Paintings by Dumitru Gorzo

Dumitru Gorzo’s new body of paintings, an exquisite and compositionally electric series the Brooklyn-based artist produced while visiting a remote studio outpost in his home country Romania, evidence him taking his characteristic, indeed unmistakable mark-making into formal territories as relatively uncharted as the isolated, mountainous landscapes that surrounded him as he worked.

These large canvases have an air of being fervidly executed rather than merely painted, of being impetuously layered and energetically composed, then reined in and hewn as opposed to envisioned, planned and produced. To an extent, this is much like Gorzo’s creative practice in general. Whether painting, sculpting or drawing, he is wont to leave readily palpable traces of his procedural strata at the surface, and to allow his often extemporaneous approach to initial mark-making to guide his compositions into most unforeseeable spheres comprising abstracted figures and curious creatures, or what might even register as organically inflected, technologically implausible architectures and machinery. His trademark summer-vine greens, turquoise blues and subtly blanched, softened pinks come into atmospheric, airy confluence in his backdrops, in which all manner of smallish, darkly inscribed subjects seem to dart about in sparely described, middle-grounded hinterlands. In many of his foregrounds, then, these same colors are deployed as either expressive drips or chromatic bursts seeping through or filling in interstitial voids in much more robustly marked, candidly delineated, physically bizarre yet somehow sympathetic figures and forms.

With these new works, Gorzo’s painterly agency is that of a cave dweller with a preternatural awareness of Philip Guston and Hieronymus Bosch. In other words, this is Gorzo as usual, yet with the energy and volume turned up a notch. One can almost hear all of his figuratively evocative echoes bouncing about throughout mountains, forests and valleys.

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This essay was composed as an accompaniment to Fend Off, Dumitru Gorzo’s solo exhibition at Slag Gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The show opens on September 9th and runs through October 9th, 2016. More information and images here.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

Radiantly Provocative

by Paul D'Agostino

Untitled (Target, Ripple and Zig Zags) 2016

Rico Gatson, Untitled (Targets, Ripples and Zigzags), 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Art.

 
Radiantly Provocative: Rico Gatson’s Power Lines

Robustly chromatic, visually potent, at times compositionally labyrinthine and physically imposing, Rico Gatson’s mixed-media paintings, sculptures and collage-centric drawings are always, thanks in part to their carefully honed economy of forms and means, declarative, assertive and indelible—and unmistakably, unwaveringly his. On levels aesthetic and conceptual alike, Gatson does not imbue, but rather inundates his works with definitive, invariable force, executing them with just enough colorful vibrancy, linear keenness and mystical curiosity as to allow his viewers to almost—yet only almost, and this is crucial—miss or overlook their certainly important, equally cogent, subtly layered, variably strident socio-political content.

All of this has been true of Gatson’s work for quite a while, but it is now much more so in the new series of mixed-media pieces he has produced for Power Lines, a solo exhibition at Samsøn Projects. The artist’s characteristic palette of patently Africana-associative chromatics—bright reds, greens and goldish yellows often framed, interrupted by or sectioned off with swaths of deeply flat or slightly lustrous blacks, all arranged in variable abstractions that might even, at times, feature embedded texts—has become bolder, brighter, richer and punchier than ever, and thicker sections of color and black alike make his compositions register as weightier, more declarative, somehow exigent. Some pieces, however, especially a fresh new series of small panels, as well as certain tall, lean-to like sculptural works, Panel Paintings, evidence Gatson taking a bit further his recent explorations of chromatic switchings—transposing the complementary balancing he usually achieves via reds and greens with value-like harmonies via purples and greys, maintaining his lush warm yellow to keep the violets at bay.

Gatson’s recent boundary-breaching explorations hardly stop at color swaps, however, and it is in some of his newest compositional tweakings that viewers are reminded to look very deeply into the information he’s providing to extract therefrom certain latent, open-endedly abstract statements regarding contemporary race relations. What does a small panel covered in colorful dots mean, for instance, when it’s formally disrupted by a veil of orderly black lines from one end to the other? In the artist’s series of ‘fun-looking’ Panel Paintings, what might it mean for so many Africana-colored pieces to be ‘infringed upon’ by one that is simply, and thus in some sense openly, black and white? Such compositional and installation-related choices bring viewers into more intimate closeness with the objects in question, for certain, encouraging them to decode those featuring formally obscured texts, for instance, or inlaid images. But are viewers looking at them enough to look into them? Are they really, on a certain level, reading them? This is indeed the self-reflexive crux of the matter in Power Lines: Are we truly and honestly—as viewers of art, or as a populace with presumed awarenesses—reading the racially relevant signs that are all around us? Within the context of Gatson’s work, are we actually reading, for instance, the collaged bits of generally civil-rights-era imagery he has been inserting with increasing pervasiveness across his œuvre? Are we pausing to consider that the ever-bright colors in his paintings are achieved with simple domestic paints, thus making their presence an oft-overlooked omnipresence, and granting their flatness not just visual frankness but also critical candor?

Gatson’s chromatico-formalisms are more blatant than ever in Power Lines, and the blatancy, boldness and volume of his sociocultural critique is markedly amped up. The artist has long posited his work as a platform for discussions of racial inequalities, and his voicings of the same, in his new body of work, now have notes of stridency. He now seems to be demanding for his work to be regarded as such. And now is a crucial time for us to regard it thusly, for these discussions have been heating up dramatically in so many places, on so many fronts. To be sure, the best way to cool the temperature of the debate would be to actually engage in it, actively and honestly. With Power Lines, Gatson seems to be putting himself forth as a moderator.

In the context of all this, then, it becomes very intriguing to take a closer look at the series of Radiant Icon collage-drawings that Gatson has been making for years and years, and of which he presents a new suite here. That is, in the context of Gatson’s recently amped-up volumes and greater formal overtness, it becomes clear that the artist has been waiting for these discussions to burst open for quite some time. In our faces all the while—now latent, now strident—have been his powerful, colorful, radiantly provocative lines.

Untitled (Three Diamonds) 2016.jpg

Rico Gatson, Untitled (Three Diamonds), 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Art.

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This essay was composed as an accompaniment to Power Lines, Gatson’s solo exhibition at Samsøn Projects in Boston, MA. The show opens on June 3rd and runs through July 17th, 2016. More information and images here.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

Kin and Not

by Paul D'Agostino

Image courtesy Mille Kalsmose.

Image courtesy Mille Kalsmose.

 

Kin and Not: Mille Kalsmose’s Substitute Families

Mille Kalsmose probes and mines the definitively trying, variably traumatic aspects of her own familial history to question interpersonal relationships, social mores, maternities and paternities, kinships and kindredness, filial similarities and otherness, and the differently meaningful strangeness of strangers as they embed themselves into our lives as friends and acquaintances. Whether her works assume form as installations, photographic series, sculptures or broadly variant visual essays, they amount collectively to so many investigations of the ethical, physical, existential and socio-spatial malleabilities of our regards for one another, related or otherwise—as well as our regards, both obliquely and directly, for ourselves.

In her newest body of work, Substitute Families, Kalsmose expresses the presumed rigidities and sometimes veiled fragilities of familial rapports through materials and selective placements. Crafted out of iron, wood, silk and pigskin, this sculptural series consists of a number of very similar individuals qua family members of variable heights and spatial relations to one another. Hard and heavy, the iron elements are at once the individuals’ bodily sticks, cranial frames and standing perches, as each figure appears in several forms, suggesting perhaps maturation and the passing of time. Delicate and liminal, and stretched taut into their iron frames—then fastened firmly in place with most visible, ‘rigidity’-implying rivets—the silk and pigskin elements make up certain body parts and facial forms. As these features grow and ‘age’, they eventually become the iron-bound wooden templates that gave them form, to some extent, in the first place.

Bereft of truly individualizing features—although certain shapes do suggest that one might be a little girl, another a boy, others parents— these standing figures scan as curiously looming stand-ins for some sort of ambiguously ‘related’ collective. At once human-like and not at all, they are markers of the subtle individualities and samenesses that define us not only as beings, but also as groups, and their differential proximities to one another leave viewers pondering their interpersonal intimacies, closenesses, distances. They might be a family properly-so-called; they might be a family only circumstantially; they might not necessarily be a true family at all.

Are they facing toward or away from one another? Are they coming together or cleaving apart? These figures’ formal simplicities and spatial suggestivities leave them posing splendidly unanswerable questions of ethical, philosophical, socio-cultural and psycho-familial sorts. At the same time, viewers might simply find them pleasant objects to look at, walk among, be around. In a way, we all hope to be a bit like that, too, sometimes.

Image courtesy Mille Kalsmose.

Image courtesy Mille Kalsmose.

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This essay was composed on the occasion of Kalsmose’s Substitute Families series being included in Afterimage, a group exhibition at InCube Arts, located at 314 West 52nd Street in New York City. More information here.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

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