The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 12-JAN 13

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DEC 12-JAN 13 Issue

The escape from the banal everyday life to the world of the ideal

On View
November 2 – December 8, 2012
New York

Like Derrida’s “writing,” the art object is the trace of our mark in this world. It can therefore never fully present itself, for to do so would be to undermine its potential—which is to transport, to transpose, to augment. To look too directly eliminates eroticism and all we are left with is the vulgarity of raw flesh.

Stephen Truax, “Reproduced Photograph (SS. Maria in Trastevere Study 1-3),” 2005/2012. Detail of framed photograph in 3 parts, 37 x 25".

The escape from the banal everyday life to the world of the ideal, NURTUREart’s most recent guest-curated exhibition, is as compelling as its title suggests. The small basement-level gallery off the Morgan L stop in Bushwick has been host to a number of interesting exhibitions of late—socially probing shows like …Is This Free?, a three-part installment in written text and visual media that was built upon and added to throughout the summer months, immediately come to mind—but this is the first of NURTUREart’s guest-curated programming that directly aims to tackle the cultural ennui present in our commodity-driven, artslick cosmos. Brooke Moyse, the curator of the exhibition and a painter herself, brings together five Brooklyn-based artists who work in a variety of media, from painting to photography, as a means of reflecting on the history of abstraction itself, namely Charles Burchfield’s idiosyncratic practice of artistic investigation—one that continually probed, via coded notebooks and mystically driven sketches, the limits of art’s capacity to realize that which is beyond the reach of our five senses. The artists gathered together by Moyse similarly aim to transport us beyond the physical plane of this world and, just maybe, to offer a glimpse of our potential beyond.

This sort of mysticism might sound overly romantic to most modern readers/viewers, yet it boasts a long history in abstract circles—Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko make up some of its most avid proponents—and is very much still a touchstone for many an artist, particularly this cast of players. The small selection of works at NURTUREart, 10 in all, is powerful in scope, as Moyse carefully chose no more than two to three works from each contributor. The result is an exercise in careful looking wherein the senses are, thankfully, not overwhelmed by extraneous input, but are given the opportunity to slowly absorb the messages attempting to reach across the void.

Stephen Truax’s 24 by 36-inch photographs, enlarged and drum scanned from the 4 by 6 originals taken inside the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome, present the ideal opportunity for such contemplative viewing. Shot in rapid succession as the light within the church washed across its supporting columns, the resulting images are essentially photographs of photographs, jewel-hued and abstracted to the point of irrecognition. Truax utilizes the refractive conditions of light, texture and dust to imbue his pictures with a meditative solemnity; we don’t know that we are looking at images of Santa Maria, but the aura and history of the space somehow translates. It is as if you can feel the peacefulness of presence, rather than witness it.

Similarly, although working in an altogether different medium, Jonathan Allmaier— whose first solo show at James Fuentes earlier this fall met with favorable reviews—taps into the brute physicality of painting, using his entire body (literally) to paint his larger-than-life-sized “Untitled (Green Point)” (2011). Almost completely emerald green in color, save for the scraped-away areas where the natural tint of the canvas slips through, Allmaier’s painted surface conjures the ghosts of Color Field’s past, referencing both the saturated hues of Sam Francis and the whimsical, impastoed surfaces of Jules Olitski. Before the 92 ½ by 75-inch canvas, we experience the painting as if being tossed into a gleaming ocean without a life vest, left to wrestle with the waves and tempestuous currents that threaten to crash over our heads and drag us under.

Fellow painter EJ Hauser queries with encoded, monochromatic exploits in black-and-white. As does Allmaier, Hauser uses the effects of oil paint—its luminous and seductive sheen—to admirable ends. Yet in a departure from the strictly abstract motifs that dominate the rest of the show, Hauser embeds her paintings with the lexicon of text.  The catch happens upon closer inspection. In “juicyfruit” (2012), these marks reveal themselves as hieroglyphs that have no meaning. In “moonflower” (2012), the slightly-more-legible script hovers on the edge of consciousness.

Bushwick veteran Tamara Gonzales is more vernacular in her approach, employing everyday materials such as spray paint and lace stencil for her electrically charged canvas “The Sun Goes Down” (2011).  In the case of Maria Walker, the exposure of her painting’s traditional support—the wood frame that makes up its skeletal core—is translated into sculptural relief. She states, in a clever series of poems written for the exhibition catalog: “What are the Materials of painting? There is the wood. There is the cloth. There is the paint.”* Basic materials, direct in their simplicity and listing. Here the symbol set does not pretend to be that which it is not: it is truth. The transcription of this idea, Walker’s “Untitled Stand #2” (2012), is underwhelming, faded, awkward—fabulous. A signifier of the reality it strains, almost too successfully, to express.

*The full exhibition catalogue can be viewed and downloaded here.

56 Bogart St. // NY, NY


Kara L. Rooney

Kara Rooney is a Brooklyn-based artist, writer, and critic working in performance, sculptures and new media installation. She is a Managing Art Editor for the Brooklyn Rail and faculty member at School of Visual Arts, where she teaches Art History and Aesthetics.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 12-JAN 13

All Issues