New York CitySperone Westwater
November 4 – December 18, 2021
What is the future of drawing? Jitish Kallat has built the answer into a riddle: it’s flat but one can walk around it; it’s permanent and yet the images change; it is hand drawn and yet also a photograph. His three “Epicycles” (2021) are screens, but also billboards and signs—their heavy wooden frames and bases allow the drawings to stand independently—but they are concertedly flat and anti-sculptural. As we orbit them, the lenticular images on one side emerge and then disappear; a floating child vanishes, a ring of women in kimonos flicker in and out of the picture plane. The human element in Kallat’s “Epicycles” represent ephemerality, but he also includes branches, seed pods, fruit and spidery cracks which stay put—glistening behind the plastic ridges of the printing process but never dissolving like their counterparts. This series of monumental hybrid drawings are inspired by an intersection of Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (1915-23) and Edward Steichen’s Family of Man exhibition at MoMA in 1955. Kallat’s intentions are quite clear: the artist is angling to present an updated interpretation of Steichen’s unifying vision. Steichen was positioning photography as the only medium capable of spanning the chasms between the world’s cultures, and Kallat has created these mystical “Epicycles” as a cultural condenser, unifying not only humanity but nature and inanimate objects as well. Obverse from the colorful lenticulars are flat, non-moving diagrams pulled from his integer drawings (displayed on the wall to the side). The diagrams aptly play their role as B-sides, filling in the silhouettes generated by the photographs on the other side, and offering an implied explanation of the forces of nature.
A series of four paintings are also on display, similar to the “Epicycles” in their pseudo-didactic presentation, but focusing much more on the non-linearity of evolution that is becoming more and more of a fact of life in this age. There is really no genealogy to drawing, and Jitish Kallat’s alternative evolution of images dispenses with any notion of movement from simple towards complex, instead hopping back and forth non-linearly from diagram to realistic rendering. He approaches pictures as an MRI scan or an engineer—plumbing them for aspects of functionality and difference, rather than progression. All the paintings are entitled Asymptote (a line that approaches a given curve but does not meet it at any finite distance). They are fraught, and far less sanitized, than the freestanding lenticular works. The paintings have a rough grid inscribed onto the canvas on which all the images are anchored. They engage with the surface in various stages of decay—some of the sepia, black, and white images are heavily crackled, others are more clear and sharp. They play with comparison: at the top right corner of one, what resembles a murky lava flow is transformed into a crystalline form which then becomes a sharply delineated spectrum of pale crackled colors. The “Asymptote” paintings are simultaneously poetic and analytical—a space that only exists within art, and really can only be applied to the act of human creativity.
The “Integer Studies (Drawings from Life)” are daily works, each inscribed with a number based on the projected population of the earth at an exact moment each day. Kallat extrapolates a form from this. As in his paintings, the forms oscillate between organic and the geometric. In these successive drawings, the diagrammatic quality is mimetic: some seem to depict architectural cross-sections, others electrical charts, and others seems to be scientific/biological diagrams like a section through the eye or a planetary syzygy. They are rendered monochromatically with colored pencil interventions, looking like the pages of a diary. It is easy to see how these easily translate into the b-sides of the “Epicycles”—explanatory notes for the universal photographic imagery Kallat uses. The Family of Man was the most popular exhibition in MoMA’s history, traveling world-wide and being viewed by over 9 million visitors. The show itself was hung in an anti-hierarchical way, with works placed from floor to ceiling and on glass walls, overwhelming the viewer with a sense of complexity and multiplicity. Kallat employs this too, in all three typologies of work on view, but with much greater effect than Steichen’s “artful” organization of photographs. Kallat’s images are anti-hierarchical, but combined with the integer drawings, they play at having a cogent organization that mimics didacticism. They invite comparison without the attendant cultural baggage of museological hierarchies: there is no attendant pressure on the viewer to accommodate someone else’s opinion—the “Epicycles” purely teach.