The Painterly and the Linear: Shirley Kaneda and Robert Mangold
Shirley Kaneda at Galerie Richard and Robert Mangold at Pace Gallery
Shirley Kaneda: Space Without Space
May 1 to May 28, 2014
514 West 24th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212-510-8181
April 4 to May 03, 2014
510 West 25th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212-255-4044
A great deal of contemporary art mimics advertising images, which seek to deliver a potent visual punch all-at-once. The abstract paintings of Shirley Kaneda and Robert Mangold – a very different style of visual art– solicit close slow looking. Thanks to happy circumstance, these exhibitions were both at galleries on the ground floor, just a block apart, for a day or two of brief overlap. And so it was natural and suggestive to look back and forth, in order to make comparisons, which proved very suggestive. In the world of Chelsea where there are so many shows of installation art, photography and video, Kaneda and Mangold may seem very similar, but look more closely and the contrasts reveal very different sensibilities.
Robert Mangold’s shaped canvases contain flat areas of pale color: yellows, ochre, orange and red, bounded by regular curves, drawn black pencil lines which circle the composition. Some of his paintings are square, while others are shaped—Angled Ring I, (2011) for example, is a pentagon. The lines in Square with Open Circle (2011) form a spiral, as do those lines in Framed Square with Open Center III (2013), which run around the empty center. The open centers of Mangold’s pictures focus your attention on a centrifugal structure. In the 1960s, Michael Fried proposed the concept of deductive structure to describe the way the internal structure of shaped pictures could be ‘deduced’ from the frame. Here, by contrast, you find yourself observing the antagonistic relationship between the shape of the canvas and the drawing that it contains.
Kaneda uses rectangular canvases, though of varied size—the smallest can easily be held in one hand, while the larger ones are regular easel paintings. Although these shapes are thus simpler than Mangold’s, their interior activity is more complicated. Kaneda’s sensibility comes closest to that revealed in Mangold’s shaped canvases in her Untitled (2013), with its series of circles around the center, and in Restrained Decadence, (2014), which also is centered on a circle. Sometimes she deploys areas of plaid orswirls reminiscent of James Rosenquist’s Pop imagery—Sanguine Apathy (2014) for example. Or, in other works, she sets shaped areas of solid color running across or up and down in the picture, as in Plus Minus (2013). And occasionally, she presents odd organic shapes, of which Confident Apprehension (2013), is an example. Unlike Mangold, she always creates illusionistic depth; and, again, unlike him, her abstract images are full of cuts, breaks, and layering. To put this contrast in familiar formalist terms, he is a linear painter while she a painterly painter.
There are abstract painters who work in series and those who do not. Mangold proceeds as if he was trying to paint many variations on one painting. (This procedure was more evident in his previous exhibitions of recent work than this one.) By contrast, Kaneda offers a more open vision of the processes of art making, for her activity isn’t bounded by any pre-determined structure. Mangold’s structures, like the ripples created by a stone cast in water, encourage you to look by moving your eyes from the outside of his pictures into the empty center. Kaneda, who has a very different visual susceptibility, keeps your eye on the entire surface of her all-over compositions.
As should be apparent, the contrast between Mangold’s and Kaneda’s sensibilities is evident also in the contrast between his matter-of-fact titles and hers, which usually are expressive and metaphorical. He is ‘a prose painter,’ and she ‘a poetic painter,’ which isn’t to say that one style of visual thinking is superior to the other, but only to identify important differences. What was often thought to discredit formal analysis—such as I am practicing here—was that it was concerned only with the art itself, and not with larger questions of its meaning and context. By now it should be obvious how misleading this judgment is. Imagine that both Mangold and Kaneda took up creative writing—what markedly distinct literary structures would appropriately express such different visions of artistic activity.