The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2013

All Issues
OCT 2013 Issue


On View

Mixed Greens
September 5 – October 5, 2013
New York

In her second solo exhibition at Mixed Greens, Sonya Blesofsky continues her excavations into the unyielding architectural reinvention of New York, bringing attention to human histories and daily experience in relation to our built environments.

Sonya Blesofsky, “Renovation: Brick Window,” 2013. Graphite, house paint, tape on paper and wall 128 x 60 x 3”. Image courtesy of the artist and Mixed Greens Photo: Etienne Frossard.

Focusing on the changes undergone by various buildings, including former abodes of the artist and the gallery itself, the exhibition consists of a series of vignettes that include blind-embossings, whereby ink or foil is not used so that relief images are the same color as the paper: drawings of structural details, and sculptures of construction materials, all rendered within a spare, apparitional aesthetic. Elsewhere, physical interventions alter the exhibition space itself. Cut and torn out sections of walls puncture the pristine skin of the white cube exposing a skeleton of cement, timber, and metal.

Blesofsky’s ephemeral interpretations of building components that are normally associated with strength contemplate anxieties regarding geographic permanence and personal legacy. An example can be found in rag paper embossments of brickwork that show subtle deterioration. The structural decay is paralleled in the paper itself, which is partially ruptured around the embossings. Towards the back of the gallery, four of these brick works, “Memory: Brick Lintel 1-4” (2013), evoke the ghostly scaffolds of forgotten doorways or dank, Victorian arches. Like the histories of such urban spaces, the stonework seems to fade from the paper in a convergence of presence and absence. Such works register the cycle of corrosion and civic renovation, which ushers neighborhood enhancements while also displacing extant populations, detaching them from generational locales and a sense of belonging. This constant migrational shifting underscores the fluidity and resilience required to recalibrate one’s relationship to the city.

Near the entrance of the gallery, an installation of various architectural motifs, “26th Street Aperture” (2013), includes white rag paper sculptures of hollow, wooden boards which lean against the wall. Ordinarily the wooden planks referenced by these sculptures would be used for heavy construction purposes; here the use of paper undermines any utilitarian notions, rendering them structurally useless. These sculptural shadows—and the aforementioned brick works—draw connections between human and architectural fallibility; a metaphorical hint at our own bodily decline. There is a spectral sensibility here similar to that of Felix Gonzalez Torres; the distinction is that Blesofsky suggests life’s tenuousness through artifacts of built, rather than personal, heritage.

“Renovation: Brick Window” (2013), a large graphite drawing on paper of a blocked-up window, hangs in the back of the gallery. It is remarkable for the way that it evokes the themes of alteration lying at the core of this exhibition. The masonry, cracks, and shadows are in some sections heavily wrought, elsewhere lightly outlined, and even continue onto the wall. This varied mark-making is a clever device, resulting in a sense of transience despite the solidity of the subject matter. The drawing is formed on different pieces of paper that are ripped in places, curl off the wall at the edges, and overlap. The various sections are held together with tape to present an image which although coherent, seems to exists on the verge of further modification.

The artist takes a more robust approach in two locations by removing small sections of the gallery’s walls to reveal the guts of the building, replete with a builder’s scrawled calculations. In “Monument: Support Column” (2013), the benign facade of a pillar has been ripped off to reveal a ragged complexion of wood, steel, and concrete. By this archaeological act, Blesofsky exposes evidence of the building’s past alterations, inducing reflection on the events and lives that required them. That this pillar will be fixed by a plasterer in an act of repair—not art—before the next exhibition smartly positions Blesofsky’s practice as a catalyst for, and an active part of, the process of renovation that gives this exhibition its title.

 A favorite pastime of New Yorkers is discussing neighborhood changes as another storied diner becomes a nail salon or bank. These often rapid transformations illicit varied reactions, from exhilaration at the frenetic pace of the city, to wistfulness over what may be lost. Noting such transitions, a paper installation of decorative embossings, “Relic: Pressed-Tin Ceiling” (2013), utilizes that classic Gotham emblem to eerily evoke long-gone haunts as it disintegrates across the wall and ceiling. Blesofsky eloquently chronicles the city’s mercurial approach to architectural upheaval as she considers buildings specific to her, yet posits them within a collective experience known to all urban dwellers. By teasing sociological commentary out of the built environment, the artist underscores the extent to which our personal narratives are woven into the cityscape, as we lament the old and adjust to the new.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2013

All Issues