On ViewPage (NYC)
November 14, 2020–January 10, 2021
Consider the button. Ordinary and functional, buttons are small things of small matter. And yet, they are a tiny miracle of engineering, fastening one thing to another and holding them together. In her exhibition minijobs at Page (NYC), the Stockholm-based artist Astrid Kajsa Nylander builds a collection of paintings that revel in the possibilities of the diminutive sewing notion while challenging the relegation of women’s artmaking to realms of craft and hobby. Working on button-shaped canvases—circular, oval, and otherwise—that measure less than a foot across, Nylander layers bright colors in a trompe l’oeil style to create playful images with a kitschy sensibility that trouble the boundaries between art and décor.
Measuring eight inches in diameter, yellow minijob #4 (2019) shows a round button the color of a buttercup, a strand of blue thread woven through its four central holes. The anchor of the show, this very basic button’s sunny color and dewy affect give it a fresh, almost innocent feel. And yet there is something not quite right about the way the thread twists into a darkness that lies beyond the surface. Four drops of water fall like tears from the thread, giving the piece a cartoonish feel, as if the button, pierced in its center, is crying. Nylander’s anthropomorphism continues in variegated minijob (2020), an amorphous canvas painted yellow with edges of green and orange. Here, the thread loops between two holes placed one above the other. The edges of the holes pucker out, like skin around a piercing. A big bug sits perched on the thread, giving the work a distinctive creepy-crawly feeling.
Insects are at play again in chequered minijob (2020), painted to resemble a blue-on-white windowpane blanket. Four ants, impeccably rendered, crawl up the canvas, as if invading a picnic, while Nylander’s blue thread worms in and out of the center of the fabric as if burrowing into the ground. Here the concept of a button becomes a flash of memory, or a close-up detail from a dream, something familiar and yet uncanny. In black and green minijob (2020), the artist applies layers of emerald green to the outer edges of a floral-shaped canvas, which fall away into a sort of dark tunnel or wormhole. Peering at it, I had an Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole feeling of vertigo. The hole is flanked by a caterpillar, a brown beetle, and something small and tick-like. A circle of blue glows in the painting’s center, and the thread, which twists out of it like an umbilical cord, takes on a silvery sheen: the idea of a button morphing into a portal to some hidden interior world.
In quieter moments, Nylander turns to flowers for inspiration. Mint-green minijob (2020) shows yellow and green petals extending from a center in which her thread is as delicate as filament. Pink minijob #4 (2020) is a celebration of rose madder in which a monarch butterfly rests on a gentle loop of thread. The canvas divides into three pink petals, which darken into red slits in their centers; the clitoral shape recalls the forms of Georgia O’Keeffe and Judy Chicago—as does Ultramarine minijob #3 (2019), an oval canvas on which striations of deep cobalt open into a narrow center. Chequered minijob #2 (2020) shows a fish-eye view of a green and black checkered hexagon, its center appearing to bulge forward while its edges careen away, an allusion to the Op Art of Bridget Riley. Some of the works seem paired to one another. Red minijob #2 and green minijob #5, both painted in 2020, are shaped like candy or maybe pills. The red one sports a simple arc of thread, the green a wiggly line from top to bottom—clues to the effects they might induce.
The term minijob suggests work that is done quickly and without great importance. It evokes the compartmentalization of life—especially for women and especially during COVID-19 restrictions—when managing a household, caring for children, and earning a living culminate in a frantic cycling between obligations. Applied to the work of a woman artist, minijob becomes a slight. But for Nylander, the minijobs function as small but intense bursts of ideas, each piece adding to a growing body of work in which a nostalgic sweetness is juxtaposed with an unsettling sense of darkness that results in something that is humorous and at the same time empowering. Cramming the work with clever allusions and visual intensity, Nylander shows just how much can be achieved over time in these minijobs. Hung alongside each other, the 27 pieces that make up the show play off of each other like collectibles from a millennial childhood. Hovering between tacky and tasteful, the work is immediately appealing, coyly evoking girlhood, yet insisting it not be dismissed.