Ethereal Anaesthetic

Joanne Ungar at Front Room Gallery

All Photos by Sharilyn Neidhardt

Joanne Ungar at Front Room, partial installation view

Pain produces sharp, bright sensations or sometimes ripping agony. It’s often intensely specific. The substances that bring us relief often do so by blurring the hard angles of our pain, allowing us to focus elsewhere. Some substances can leave us in a disconnected fog, far away from the source of discomfort. Others mute and muffle the pain, giving the relieved a sense of floating in a cushioned world. Calibrating effective pain relief can be a struggle for balance between an alert connection to the present and a silencing of uncomfortable sensation.

Joanne Ungar’s “Pain Relief,” currently on view at Front Room, casts an ethereal spell. Floating in translucent wax and color, unfolded boxes seem to shimmer and flutter in and among intensely pigmented layers. The boxes themselves were once containers for pharmaceuticals, confections, toys, cosmetics, and other things the artist classifies as anaesthetics. The stark geometry of the unfolded boxes themselves and the separate poured panels presents a pleasing balance to the murky, thick soup of color that spreads across the matte wax surfaces. Many of the works are unframed, allowing the viewer to examine the sides of the pieces and witness the careful sedimentary layers of paraffin and beeswax that keep the boxes suspended above the substrate. There is a hypnotic depth to these pieces and like the numbing sensations they allude to, the work can be hard to pin down. Like self-medication, the work hovers between the visible and the implied, playing with the distinctions between the actual and the imagined.

Joanne Ungar, detail
Joanne Ungar, “Modern Muse” (wax, board, paint, pigment) 48”x59”
Joanne Ungar, detail

Joanne Ungar describes herself as an alchemist, and it’s easy for me to picture her in her studio with various heating coils and pouring molds and flame-proof vessels, cooking up wax and paint recipes like a benevolent mad scientist, shifting molten wax and pigment as if panning for gold. In “Pain Relief,” the artist draws a lucid beauty from materials that might otherwise have been tossed in the trash. Preserved in thick layers, this anaesthetic evidence seems destined to last beyond the current geologic age. The harmony and poetry that Ms Ungar draws out of the wax and wood stimulates and comforts all at once, just like the best drugs do.

Joanne Ungar, partial installation view , details

PAIN RELIEF by Joanne Ungar is on view at Front Room Gallery (48 Hester) through March 31. Weds–Sun 1-6 & by appointment

Sharilyn Neidhardt is a Brooklyn-based visual artist. She is a co-founder of the artists’ community trans-cen-der and is an assistant curator at Friday Studio Gallery. She’s an avid cyclist, loves midnight movies, and speaks only a little German. Her first solo show ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ opened Sept 7 at Art During the Occupation in Brooklyn. More at