The Mirror Blue Night at Undercroft Gallery

Featured Project
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The Mirror Blue Night originated from an idea artist and curator Patrick Neal had for a show called Dark Noir, referencing the character of the city in the evening hours. When Neal was later invited to curate at the Undercroft Gallery, this idea expanded to include nocturnes and night in general. The gallery is located beneath The Church of Heavenly Rest on Museum Mile, and in this context, Neal began to look for spiritual echoes, considering how evening and twilight hours evoke the afterlife, the cosmos, anonymity, peace, and fear. “I had in mind depictions of darkness but also considered night as a condition that occupies half of our days and half of our lives, with all the symbolic, psychological, and temporal associations that come with it.”

Several artists explore quotidian subjects, ordinary streets, and enclaves that become extraordinary when the lights go down. Others look outward toward the mesmerizing beauty of our planet and solar system when they’re bathed in the shadows and silvers of space and starlight. Different works explore the mythology and poetry inherent to nighttime with literature and art history in mind. A few others partake in the sheer materiality of black as a substrate and medium, letting their dark compositions emerge through the physicality of the creative process. Perhaps, as expected, many works utilize a palette of black and blue. “People have asked me about the title of the exhibition. The Mirror Blue Night takes its name from a song in the musical Spring Awakening, the words by lyricist and poet Steven Sater: “…The naked blue angel who peers through the blinds disappears in the gloom of the mirror blue night…” Patrick Neal further discusses the exhibition with Art Spiel.

What is your curatorial vision for this show, and what was the process?

I invited artist friends who I knew had night paintings that spanned a variety of themes. I also invited artists I had never met but had been keeping my eye on, and this led to further introductions and suggestions to help round out the show. The idea was to present a range of surprising and unexpected works both representational and abstract that depict nighttime. The show includes fifty works done in drawing, painting, video, photograph, printmaking, and as light box sculptures.

Working on group shows is always fun for the curator because so many interesting connections occur between the artists and work. For example, some artists in The Mirror Blue Night like Eric Wolf, Poogy Bjerklie and Tamara Krendel work out of the Maine Landscape Tradition, traveling to the forests and lakes of Rangely, Kennebunk, or Moosehead Lake and working en plein air. Others, like Alyssa Fanning, Lee Lee Walker, Megan Marden, and Elisa Jensen depict the lawns, gardens, backyards, and interiors of their own homes.

There are many traces of the lights and shadows of city sidewalks, streets, and skyscrapers, as can be seen in the work of Adam Hurwitz, Kathryn Lynch and Cora Jane Glasser. As we remember 9/11, Pamela Lawton, Donna Levinstone, and Elisa Jensen all have relationships with the World Trade Center, having worked on site, high up, as part of the World Views studio space program. Emilia Wild Olsen took up the challenge of making entirely new work for the exhibition during summer travels, while Erik Hanson had an older series of three nightscapes that are being shown at The Undercroft for the first time.

As you travel around the exhibition, you’ll find many images of animals and insects including cats, moths, fireflies, or mythological harpies and sirens. Some examples include Tamas Veszi’s The Horse Comes Out at Night and Sandra Taggart’s Sheep. Itty Neuhaus’s lightbox pieces are inspired by remote regions of the earth and the natural wonders of say Greenland or China. Several artworks consider the larger cosmos with an almost spiritual wonder of the planet and universe. Jon Elliott’s abstract painting, A Distant Hum exudes a shimmering glamour evocative of an airport runway or Los Angeles skyline.

Can you guide us briefly through the show?

The Undercroft Gallery is spacious and comprises three galleries, including a long corridor gallery that leads to two adjacent white box spaces. The show begins with Adam Hurwitz’s video Night Biking, which is not only visually meditative but is accompanied by a chorus of ambient evening sounds. Nearby is the first of Erik Hanson’s three cosmic paintings based on songs by the Velvet Underground, with the title “Sunday Morning” spelled out in stars. Also, in the corridor, we encounter the first of Itty Neuhaus’s three lightbox installations, Whelmed in Deeper Gulphs, which depicts a floating iceberg in deep blues, including the sky above and the waters below the large chunk of ice. Donna Levinstone, who is known for her vistas of water, clouds, and shorelines, contributes two pastel works in electric black and blue. In the corridor is Good Morning, which reads like a minimal, gridded synecdoche of disparate scenes that comprise a universe.

There are clusters of smaller works by Megan Marden and Elisa Jensen that are hung on columns that jut out from the wall. The variety of illuminated light in these works is thrilling as we experience the glow, embers, and electricity of fireflies, firepits, holiday lights, streetlamps, and moonlight that surround neighborhood enclaves. Tamara Krendel’s Night Blooming Greenhouse is one of several greenhouses she has painted across New England and Belgium and is a truly magical image of nature coming to life after dark. Side by side, and thrumming with energy, are Kathryn Lynch’s Traffic in Blue and Jon Elliott’s A Distant Hum. They share a palette of indigo, silver and phthalo with hints of red, and suggest the layered, climatic currents, waves and pathways that underlie urban commerce. Alyssa Fanning presents two pieces each from two different series. Her recent paintings, in oil on canvas, Bathers in Blue and The Umbrella Tree, With Love from Firenze, have a zany, pop exuberance and eclectic range of celebratory mark-making.

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The exhibition flows into the two side galleries that are used as communal spaces for church members. Eric Wolf’s and Poogy Bjerklie’s paintings of woods and waterways in the Maine landscape are hushed and somber, done with an economy of means that emphasizes the physical process of dispersed paint and ink. You can almost feel the carpet of darkness descending in these pieces. Conversely, Pamela Lawton’s six small paintings done from atop the World Trade Center showcase colorful, syncopated patterns with rhythms and reflections that define the city buildings of lower Manhattan.

Lee Lee Walker also presents six works: drawings done in graphite and conte crayon on paper of her suburban backyard at night. Moody clouds and animated tree branches dance around picket fences, garages, swing sets, and shrubs at all hours of the night. Sandra Taggart and Tamas Veszi’s depictions of domesticated animals revel in a variety of unorthodox media and textures. Taggart uses Flashe, gel pen, and glitter on canvas, while Veszi roughs up his canvas with heavily impastoed paint. Their works have a cosmic, metaphysical beauty.

In a similarly physical fashion, Emilia Wild Olsen displays two paintings of harpies (half woman, half bird creatures) rendered in oil and wax pastel that watch over the exhibition like sentinel gargoyles. Her paintings done on paper are adorned with found shells, watches, and other trinkets and are hung high on chains. Finally, Cora Jane Glasser’s trilogy of paintings titled Vault Lights (Time Lapse) are abstractions of the sidewalk lights from the 1800s that lit up subterranean workspaces with natural light. The painting’s glowing orbs jibe nicely with the church’s own stained-glass windows. They also remind me of the painter Loren MacIver’s abstractions of colorful votive candles, another nice echo of church iconography.

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All photos courtesy of the author for Art Spiel.

The Mirror Blue Night. Curated by Patrick Neal at Undercroft Gallery / Church of the Heavenly Rest 1085 5th Ave, New York, NYC, September 10 – November 19, 2023

Exhibiting Artists: Poogy Bjerklie, Jon Elliott, Alyssa Fanning, Cora Jane Glasser, Erik Hanson, Adam Hurwitz, Elisa Jensen, Tamara Krendel, Pamela Lawton, Donna Levinstone, Kathryn Lynch, Megan Marden, Itty Neuhaus, Emilia Wild Olsen, Sandra Taggart, Tamas Veszi, Lee Lee Walker, Eric Wolf.

About the Curator: Patrick Neal is a painter, curator, and arts writer based in New York City. He is a 2018 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow in Painting. He has written numerous articles and reviews for Hyperallergic and Two Coats of Paint as well as catalog essays. His 2022 solo exhibition, Ephemeral Triggers, at The Hotel Belmar in Monteverde, Costa Rica was the culmination of a research-based residency in that country. Stateside, another solo show, Anonymous Oasis, opens at Joyce Goldstein Gallery in Chatham, New York on October 22, and will run through November 25, 2023.