A Diffuse Glow: “Space Between” at the Flag Art Foundation
Space Between at The FLAG Art Foundation
June 3 to August 14, 2015
545 West 25th Street (between 10th and 11th avenues)
New York City, 212 206 0220
A group exhibition may be tightly focused, like a beam of light that penetrates the artfog to reveal a previously obscure order. Or it may cast a more diffuse glow, allowing the assembled works to illuminate one another, and viewers to intuit an order as they may. The latter curatorial style is just as rigorous as the former; if anything, a less programmatic exhibition requires (and rewards) heightened alertness to unexpected affinities among diverse works. Such an exhibition is the lively, elegant “Space Between,” on view through August 14 at the FLAG Art Foundation in Chelsea.
Curated by Louis Grachos, Executive Director of The Contemporary Austin, and FLAG Art Foundation Director Stephanie Roach, “Space Between” is ostensibly a consideration of objects in which the conventions of painting coexist with characteristics native to sculpture. This cross-generational exhibition of 33 works by 24 artists also reaches to photography to demonstrate the interplay of pictorial and physical space, exploring the fuzzy edges of this fruitfully gray area.
Of course, spatial ambiguity is not front-page news. Duchamp’s Bride Stripped Bare (1915 – 23) is but one illustrious 20th-century example, among many others. And then there is the ancient tradition of bas-relief, which transmutes ambient light into chiaroscuro. But “Space Between” doesn’t overplay this hand, as it touches also on the persistence of a certain shape-heavy, color-centric strain of abstraction and, by extension, urges viewers to think about art history in terms of continuity rather than wave upon wave of innovation, of radical newness.
Three relatively recent works by Ellsworth Kelly anchor the show. The most salient of these is Blue Relief Over Green (2004), two oil-on-canvas monochrome rectangles joined at a right angle and measuring about seven by six feet — plus, (the all-important third dimension) the two and three-quarters inches depth of the panels’ stretchers. The seemingly minor physical displacement of the picture plane interferes with the property of color — even Kelly’s full-throated hues — to appear to advance or recede in relation to one another. The visual tension is exquisite, and sets the tone for ”Space Between.”
Gazing down into Roni Horn’s Pink Around (B) (2008), a solid glass disk 40 inches in diameter and 15 inches high, the viewer is simultaneously impressed by its mass and beguiled by the blushing delicacy of its coloration. Sadie Benning’s compact wall pieces, such as Wipe, Montana Gold Banana and Ace Fluorescent Green (2011), embody color quite differently: on these small, plaster-covered panels, two distinct hues occupy the same physical plane while vying for illusionistic space. Meanwhile, the title divulges the object in Thomas Demand’s photographic triptych, Detail (Sportscar) (2005), in which extreme cropping renders unrecognizable these sleek orange forms.
In this context, attention to color doesn’t necessarily imply abundant chroma. The oldest work in the show is Mystry Man (1984) by Tony DeLap, a seven-foot-high wall construction made of canvas over an eccentrically shaped and beveled wood stretcher and painted a precise shade of gray. Nearby is Wyatt Kahn’s Untitled (2014), another painting/sculpture hybrid, in which the deadpan color of raw linen contrasts with the flat panels’ animated, undulating contours.
There are two corner pieces in the show. Untitled Still Life (2013) by Kaz Oshiro is a large, cherry-red, square canvas tipped 45 degrees, its left corner bent and crumpled where it meets the adjacent wall. It seems a bit reluctantly sculptural. Jim Hodges contributes Toward Great Becoming (orange/pink) (2014), in which two mirror-tiled panels — irregular polygons — reflect each other and complete themselves. It is dazzling, and makes you giddy.
Two adjoining galleries testify to the wide influence of Agnes Martin on the work of contemporary artists. One space houses Martin’s Peace and Happiness (2001), a wonderful 60-inch-square canvas comprising alternating horizontal bands of azure blue and dusty white, faintly delineated in pencil. The mirage-like effect is atmospheric one moment, concrete the next. In its proximity, Rebecca Ward’s clandestine (2015) — a five-foot-high work in which stitched sections of canvas, painted in pearly tones, are partially deconstructed to reveal the stretcher—shares this Martin’s split personality. The Sun, Chapter 1 [diagonal edge, horizontal stripe] (2001), a quiet stunner by R.H. Quaytman, also reflects on its own structure; the primary motif, a diagonal band, depicts in section the plywood panel on which it is painted. The interconnectedness of visuality and materiality is borne out in other splendid works in this gallery by Julia Rommel and Svenja Deininger.
A second Martin, the 12-inch-square Untitled #6 (1999), keeps company with a trippy, mirrored, space-confounding 2D work in glass, mirror and wood by Olafur Eliasson, Walk Through Wall (2005); a cast resin piece by Rachel Whiteread, titled A.M. (2011) — in homage to the Martin? — which seems to refer to a gridded windowpane; and two colored pencil drawings by Marc Grotjahn from his “butterfly” period of a decade or so ago. Rounding out the show are terrific works by Sarah Crowner, Liam Gillick, Sérgio Sister, Andreas Gursky, Blair Thurman, and Douglas Coupland (yes, the novelist).
In the mid-to-late 1950s, Kelly and Martin worked in a loft building on Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan. Contrary to the prevailing Abstract Expressionist autographic touch, improvisational composition and spatial flux, they concerned themselves with unbroken color and unambiguous, hard-edge shape. Decades of “isms” (and the neighborhood’s loft buildings) have fallen like dominoes since those days, but the deeper structures of contemporary art’s visual vocabulary remain intact and vital. As Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns are lauded for eliding painting and sculpture in the neo-Dada 1950s, so too do the efforts of Kelly and Martin (and other Coenties Slip figures like Jack Youngerman and Charles Hinman) echo today.