The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2012

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OCT 2012 Issue


On View
David Zwirner
September 7 – October 27, 2012
New York

Toba Khedoori’s monochromatic paintings and drawings are subtle and shifty exercises in visual sleight-of-hand. These seemingly pristine objects are not what they seem; Khedoori clearly relishes the dichotomy between what they are initially perceived to be and the reality of the surface. Moving into uncharted territory from her paint-on-waxed paper into oil and canvas, the new works have a singularity as objects in their new-found volume—this is, in fact, the first thing the viewer observes about the exhibition. Seen from afar, the paintings appear as tablets—unframed satiny gessoed rectangles that appear faultless and hard. 

Toba Khedoori, “Untitled (purple river),” 2011-2012. Oil on linen. 36 1/2 x 53 3/4”. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York.

The spidery black drawings of rope, tangled branches, vein-like rivers and chiseled mountains appear precisely engraved in marble-like slabs. That would be too didactic though (Khedoori is not reproducing the diagrams from a textbook on Earth science). Her linear precision dissolves instantly into a miasma of trace elements—the pencil underdrawings, smudges, fingerprints, various scuffs and imperfections. The paintings of the objects and entities have their own life as well. A pair of studies of mountains, both “Untitled” (mountains 1 and 2)—intricate and delicate topographical paintings that the artists has clearly spared no effort in painstakingly crafting with a tiny brush—bulge and quiver along their edges. The artist has drawn a line in the sand by drawing no line; these images are a refutation of perfection and more an engagement with chaos and disorder. 

The mountain paintings are identical inverted images that toy with the viewer—which image is the original, and what is the scale? This could be a range in the Rockies, but it might also be the serpentine rivulets of a dried out stream that the viewer could traverse in three steps. Similarly, “Untitled (black river)” and “Untitled (purple river)” oscillate between the macro and micro by virtue of their disembodiment from a recognizable context. That both rivers stretch from one side of the canvas to the other, edge to edge, obfuscates the composition of the picture. These images are about getting from point A to point B, but doing so solely on the surface of the canvas; they follow a vector of motion contained in the work of art, largely casting aside the version of reality alluded to in the titles.

The odd work out is “Untitled (black squares),” which also toys with color by alternating blue amidst the composition’s blacks and grays. Though the paintings of mountains and rope (and to a lesser extent the branch paintings) play with illusion in a very cursory way, “Black Squares” has that flickering, impossible-to-catch quality of an optical game: there is no way to focus on one part of the painting. It has a bit of a magic Eye puzzle quality as well, but this is probably another example of the dry sense of humor that runs through these paintings: it looks like a puzzle, but after gazing at it for a long time, there doesn’t seem to be a solution, just black squares and a very frustrating punch line.

Toba Khedoori, “Untitled (string),” 2010. Graphite on Lana aquarelle paper. Paper: 50 1/2 x 53 1/2”. Image: 37 x 43 1/2”. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York.

The one drawing in the exhibition, “Untitled (string),” sums up much of the show. Unlike the paintings, the taught cords in this study stop at an arbitrary border, transforming them into line segments rather than continuous streams. They intersect at random points, but because of their varying thicknesses, it’s impossible to tell if they inhabit space or are just flat. As you wrap your head around this aesthetically rendered Euclidean geometric proof, you perhaps perceive congruences and similarities between the parts, but because this seems to be drawings of string, it might just be a very confused Cat’s Cradle as well. Or both, maybe.

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William Corwin

William Corwin is a sculptor and journalist from New York.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2012

All Issues