An Immiscible Swirl: Greg Lindquist at Central Booking
Greg Lindquist: Smoke and Water/Dispatches at The Library at Central Booking
May 4 to 28, 2017
21 Ludlow Street, between Canal and Hester streets
New York City, centralbookingnyc.com
In Greg Lindquist’s paintings and wall mural, a mixture of coal ash and water—pictured as an immiscible swirl—serves as an avatar for a 2014 coal ash spill that contaminated drinking water in North Carolina and Virginia. Lindquist has addressed this particular spill previously, in exhibitions at the North Carolina Museum of Art and again at The Southeastern Center for Community Change. Those two venues reflect strains of his thought (fine art, social action) that his installations attempt to conjoin.
The Library (curated by Diana Wege) is a subsection of Central Booking, an amalgam venue that is part-bookstore, part-gallery. Lindquist is doing a lot within it. He has placed his oil paintings on two walls of a large, acrylic mural; the color-separated layers of its “swirl” image give it a graphic, digital effect. On the floor, Plexiglass vitrines of evidential coal ash follow the edge of the wall. An extensive booklet contextualizes the exhibition with interviews, essays by Lindquist and others, documentation of earlier exhibitions, a family history. Be warned, this is an exhibition with a lengthy backstory.
And yet, his paintings are not props by any means. Lindquist paints from projected photographs of the Dan River and Sutton Lake, two sites exposed to arsenic, cadmium, selenium and other pollutants. He’s attentive to the enlarged source images’ pixilation, which he renders here in Monet-like dabs. The colors look blown out and at times inverted, Fauvist for the end-days. According to Lindquist, the greenish color that underlies both mural and oil paintings is a Benjamin Moore finish, “Fresh Cut Grass.” “Toxic” is how previous viewers have described it, he tells me, and I can see why. It gives the paintings a hazy, eerie light. But he is thoughtful, troubled by the premise. “Part of the problem is that we don’t always know what toxic looks like. What is toxic?”
When I meet him, Lindquist is bussing a used tub of paint out to his car, saying he’d just completed the final touches the night before. These late decisions are idiosyncratic—including the low height of the exhibition’s smallest painting; the paper mâché covering a doorknob in the middle of his mural— that make the exhibition feel personal, inhabited. The coal ash vitrines along the floor reference Smithson’s “nonsite,” nature dislocated into the gallery. There is a corrective aspect to this gesture: dislocation is not simply a function of “aesthetic decisions,” as he writes of Land Art in a letter to Smithson in the exhibition booklet, but also political.
“Installation Art” is a short hand way of describing the method by which Lindquist brings his art into contact with environmental politics. I thought of the artist Sharon Hayes, who bends formats of protest, of assembly, toward a poetic-political art. I thought of Thomas Hirschhorn; an earlier iteration of “Smoke and Water” recalls Hirschhorn’s “Gramsci Monument,” inviting community participation. When I bring this up, Lindquist makes a distinction between paid workers and volunteer contributors. That Hirschhorn paid participants in the making of “Gramsci Monument” makes him uncomfortable (although “volunteer” is a fine line from “unpaid laborer,” hardly more ethical than paid labor).
Another, crucial difference is that Hirschhorn lives within the (Kurt Schwitters) Merzbau, collage-logic being the way much installation art has reconciled the conjunction of difficult parts. Lindquist has little merz to him. Nor does he share Hirschhorn’s ra-ra-ra mantra of “energy yes, quality no.” His work errs the other way: one is called in for meditation, or a quiet chat on a serious subject. “Smoke and Water” is admirably un-sensational, which may have less to do with artistic precedent than with Lindquist’s commitment to his subject and a refreshingly sincere conviction in art’s ability to affect social change.
Whether this is compatible with painting is an open question. It’s a premise of his work and a dare. Other disciplines than painting, particularly photography, sculpture, drawing, and video, have adapted with greater success to the Installation format. Painting does not play nicely with others; is not easily assimilated. When it’s simply a sign, it withers. But Lindquist’s paintings are adamantly complex. The most delicate is a small 8” x 10” painting of a coal ash “swirl” made with oil and glass bead. Look for it within the mural–its subtle placement took me close to ten minutes to notice it. The larger paintings are more challenging than beautiful, but full of the kinds of labored decisions that make his use of the space specific. He is a painter who leaves open the possibility of a discovery in paint, a chance encounter. The promise and challenge of Lindquist’s exhibition is the mixture of difficult, maybe impossible parts.