A few weeks back I went to see several shows throughout Chelsea and the LES. This is a rare occasion for me since my kids were born, so I tried to squeeze in as much as possible. 20+ shows is too many, I know this, but I did it anyway. Several shows stood out and I was pleased with the overall quality of what I saw. A theme popped out at me during the day: canvas.
It began with Fontana’s show at Gagosian which in my opinion is both grotesque and beautiful. Some of the installation was particularly sinful, cheek by jowl canvases countered by the beautiful environments recreated and installed in the cavernous space. The raw canvas works and recreated environments stand out as the most beautiful for me. The double hung green and purple slashed pristine canvas pieces were hung in an overstuffed art fair booth style. They were sad because they were so perfectly Fontana’s signature work, but all gloss and no guts. As I moved on to other galleries, 3 shows stood out that all dealt with canvas that has been changed or replaced in some way.
Tauba Auerbach at Paula Cooper (ended June 9) features her Fold paintings which have been widely exhibited at this point at art fairs and biennials, but also new Weave paintings. The woven surface of the canvas reminds me of lanyards at camp and the marvelous Sheila Hicks fiber works at Sikkema Jenkins. All the work was hung maybe 8-10 inches off the floor, in the same way Dan Walsh installs his work in the same gallery. I asked one of the dealers if they (Tauba and Dan) had discussed this or even met, and they were hard-pressed to find a connection. Whatever the reason, it worked and the woven pieces seemed to be made of white light. You dance with them trying to nail down the color and find the patterns extensions and terminations.
After that I was pleasantly surprised by Florian Schmidt at Zach Feuer (ended June 16), which mixed plenty of obvious references with something new and a bit fragile. The “canvases” are more like collages of vinyl and cardboard and wood. They are pieced together in a way that makes you aware of their fragility and low gloss. These were anti-Jacob Kassay structures, no shimmer or sheen, with Bontecou and Nevelson at their core. Fontana ripped the pure surface, Auerbach dissected and remade it to her exacting specifications and Schmidt simply built a new surface out of the kitchen sink.
I walked into N.Dash at Untitled (ended June 17) expecting little and was dead wrong. The hand-rubbed, hand-made draped canvas, jute and linen has it precursors, but somehow it stands apart. It reminded me of Ryman, Serra, Buren and Tuttle but reconfigured and raw like the first time I heard the White Stripes play The Hardest Button to Button. Without overplaying her hand, the artist pulls off so many of the same feats as Fontana. In Artwrit, Daniel Kopel talks about her studio practice as ceaseless and deeply personal. It feels all its own because it is.
I wanted to share my thoughts, encourage you to get to know these artists, and get your feelings about the theme of the canvas as more than a surface.
Another surface: Brice Marden paints on Marble at Matthew Marks