Each of Gregory Coates’s wall-based assemblages in Actual and Implied, the artist’s solo show at Monica King Contemporary, commands the space with its own powerful presence. Altogether, the show features over a dozen new mixed media assemblages made of found objects created with post-minimalist sensibility, for which Coates is mostly known for. It is a bold encounter with the objects of art at first, but the longer you look, the more subtle and fragile it becomes. The seemingly simple monochromatic surfaces from afar transform to complex arrays of color, line and dot from close-up.
When you glance at the sides of each piece, you can easily discover that it is constructed from collections of common scrub brushes coated with what appear to be organic materials ranging from rusty orange to muddy brown, or painted with vivid primary colors such as blue and red. These objects come through as amalgams of dualities – abstract and literal, sublime and banal, prickly and soft – but it is the tension between the dense textural materiality and the occasional void underneath that makes this body of work particularly outstanding. These moments of wonder make you realize that beneath the surface there is a hidden layer of reality which you can glimpse only if you pay close attention, and even then it remains mostly unknown.
Cornrows, this featured body of work which the Pennsylvania-based artist has started since 2016, references his personal experience as a student at a private Catholic school in Washington DC, where he had been teased for wearing his hair in cornrows, the pattern and texture of a traditional African hairstyle. The artist’s choice to utilize deck brushes as medium is twofold – an homage to his grandmother, Beatrice Coates, who worked as a domestic worker and a reference to a 2011 incident in which a too eager cleaning lady at the museum in Dortmund Germany notoriously scrubbed clean a Beuys plastic bathtub and thus nulled its estimated $1.1 million value. Coates encapsulates these straight forward commentaries on art and labor, civil rights and current politics, into a potent visual Haiku.
This poignant beauty through concise forms works in both small and large scale works. Take for example AND NOW, an intimate sized assemblage from 2019 of what appears to be five rows of these scrub brushes. Dark and prickly all the way down to the shock of two Yves Kleinish blue rectangles in the bottom, the object is charged with wired energy; its shadow mirroring both bold physicality and ethereal mystery. In HERE, a much larger scale work also from this year, the rich dark color is monochromatic, almost hypnotic, but as you move around the color keeps changing, making it an enchanting process of discovery.
Coates has an uncanny ability to represent everyday objects such as bicycle rubber, deck brushes or bird feathers precisely as they are and yet transformed. His assemblages entice you to imagine the artist’s hand and mind in the process of making the work of art – collecting, assembling, dipping, deconstructing. For the viewer, this engagement activates the way in which the objects unfold their unique identity in space; their texture, sensuality and underscored narratives trigger in us an almost insuppressible urge to touch.
GREGORY COATES: ACTUAL AND IMPLIED Through December 7th, 2019
39 Lispenard Street in Tribeca, NYC