All Photos courtesy of Nina Meledandri
When an exhibition feeds you, enlightens you, or centers you, it remains with you. Each of the three shows below resonate with me for very different reasons and collectively they create a rich and thought provoking reminder of why we look at art.
Sutures at Mark Straus Gallery presents works which rely in some way on fabric, thread, weaving and/or sewing. The title is shared with one of the show’s focal points: a Louise Bourgeois sculpture, that is itself worth the visit.
The power of this exhibition is due in part to the diversity of the work presented. It ranges from joyously colorful to elegantly monochromatic, from delicate and fragile to aggressive and robust, and from the use of identifiable methods to mysterious processes.
As one moves through the show, there is an almost continual tug of war as the mind takes in familiar reference points (needlework, textiles, etc), but then tries to recognize the objects they have become. Martha Tuttle’s Mountains on Mountains is in one sense a deconstructed “painting” that literally goes through the picture plane (in this case stretched fabrics), utilizing the stretcher bars as support for small stones. The two stretchers that make up this piece (one small, one large) form a spatial relationship that the angular layers of fabric and stones occupy, creating altogether a tension between one’s mental analysis of materials and the emotional evocation of majestic mountains.
In a more conceptual yet visually playful vein is Michelle Ciacciofera’s Janas Code. Comprised of three grids, found objects are suspended by yarn which is also used to create its own forms and connections. One does not need to know that the title references rock cut graves on Sardinia which Ciacciofera has studied and uses as source material, to understand that the piece explores an interweaving of cultural touchstones.
Discourse: Abstract at Anita Rogers Gallery, is an 11 person painting show; one work per artist. As with Sutures, each of the works has its own distinct style and presence. They run the gamut from small to large; some unabashedly dependent on color, while others employ a very limited palette. But where Sutures radiates energy and activity, Discourse is quiet and thoughtful; the atmosphere in the gallery is contemplative with each work demanding to be seen in its own time which the generous gallery space allows for.
The coherence of the show comes from a shared command these artists display of both materials and process. One feels these works were chosen as much to create a discussion about the current state of abstraction as to provide a gateway into further exploration of each artist’s oeuvre. Much of the work presents a concern with formal considerations but the show does not ignore conceptual exploration, gestural passages and mixed media; Lael Marshall’s piece, for example, could have easily found a home in Sutures.
At opposite ends of the exhibition (literally and figuratively) are works by Susan Smith and Mary McDonnell. Smith’s piece is one of the smallest and is composed of primary colors. It is seemingly straightforward, an initial impression that is challenged by an unexpected juxtaposition of media. What appears to be a simple formal construction of three squares becomes strangely visceral and moving in its elegant handling of materials.
McDonnell on the other hand is represented by a large work is unruly and fairly bristling with color which seems to emerge in spite of its dark palette. It is also a profoundly gestural work that is barely contained by the canvas, as if she just managed to capture the presence of some unknown force.
In between these pieces is Joan Waltemath’s painting where hard edge black forms lay atop a field of expressive and beautiful colors, reading perhaps as blips of data floating across our lives. This painting acts almost as a map of the exhibition; it has aspects of almost every work in the show containing as it does, an exploration of color, an authority of line, the power of “the edge”, an expressionist sense of abstraction and the layering of elements.
The third show is comprised of photographs and film. As a young photographer, I grew up looking at Danny Lyon’s work who is known for inserting himself into the heart of his subject matter. Be it biker gangs, the civil rights movement, or prison life, he produces images that are both powerful and beautifully composed. His current show Wanderer at Gavin Brown Enterprises is culled from 40+ years of his life on the US/Mexico border and the people who criss cross it. The title of the show comes from a 48-minute-long film, shown here for the first time; it captures the life, death, and relationships today of the families represented in the photographs.
The photographs, which are stark, soulful, and intimate are accompanied by just enough text to provide a window into each image, allowing the viewer to embark on their own journey. Even after all the recent heart wrenching coverage of families being torn apart as they seek asylum in this country, Wanderers allowed me a more direct emotional insight into the current situation at the border. These highly personal images portray not only the people who inhabit them but also the scope of the ongoing injustice facing the undocumented. I found myself deeply moved by the inhumanity and struggle inherent in this documentation of a situation that has persisted far too long.
Nina Meledandri is a painter and a photographer living in Brooklyn For the past 20+ years she has been committed to working in watercolor every day and she considers this daily practice to be the cornerstone of her work. In recent years her focus has been on creating works that bridge the gap between her abstract paintings and her photographic images.