In a sea of luke-warm exhibitions that flooded the West Loop this past month, one seemed to stand out as the obvious and desperately needed temperature shift. Judith Geichman’s new paintings and works on paper displayed at Carrie Secrist Gallery allowed me to sink my teeth into work oozing with the aura of being made.
The black and white paintings appeared to be made with a keen awareness for limitations; each was painted on the floor in black and natural white on a square canvas, identically scaled (except for one smaller black and beige work towards the back of the gallery), and seemingly executed with identical tools—one of which was a zigzag cut out plastic shovel from Target, manipulated by the artist to achieve a rake-like texture. Despite the laundry list of restrictions, Geichman succeeded in creating an installation where each painting stood entirely on its own and contained its own set of formal properties. Variation in space, texture, speed, contrast, and energy kept me aware of how un-formulaic the paintings were, despite their formal set of parameters. Some works came across full of color, others achieved a high level of mood and atmosphere, and a few challenged space by allowing a flattened, pattern-like texture to take over the composition.
The abstract, expressionistic paintings could be perceived as having a direct relationship with the masculine abstract expressionists of the 1950’s, but I think to assume such a lineage would be a premature and perhaps inaccurate judgment. Instead I read the work first as a practice in intimate investigation with materials, not intending to point to any other moment in art history except for the artist’s own—these paintings felt uniquely conjured and performed by Geichman, alone in her studio, struggling to find resolve in each piece as its own, individual entity.
I felt the works on paper in the adjoining gallery worked successfully as one, clean, installation on the wall—I had difficulty singling individual drawings out as better or worse than others. I thought each worked in relationship to both their immediate neighbor and to the entire wall as a whole. The wall works also succeeded in acting as their own work, as opposed to being seen as preliminary drawings for the paintings on view.
At Geichman’s gallery talk in conversation with Dana Degiulio, it was made abundantly clear that the artist’s concerns were to allow the work to grow organically, and to keep challenging herself to create engaging work that pushed forward and against any formula. She aims to do this by changing up her approach to painting when work begins to feel boring or static in the studio. When asked (by a member of the audience) if she was bored with this process and making plans to delve into a new project, she politely hinted at her next body of work having an unknown future—but a future no less.
In the darkened second floor gallery space at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Karthik Pandian’s Reversal plays behind curtains. The single channel moving image program is paired with six heavy humming speakers strategically placed throughout the space allowing viewers to slowly settle in with the moving image. Filmed with two cameras onto 16mm film, Pandrian’s video is a selection of still images that fade in the Ken Burns style drawing on the nostalgia for documentaries. Red rectangles slowly move across the stills that allude to 1960’s performance documentary. With such attention to documentation it comes as a surprise that the image stills and rectangles appear through a program that Pandian has designed to produce random selection choices. The sound, as well, is produced through chance calculations that play six synthesized tones, which in turn, structure the empty darkened spaced with an auditory architecture.
In the lower gallery objects, which were used or visible in the video stills, are exhibited as a collection of ephemera. His selection of objects draws on Pandian’s earlier interest in archeological methodologies. Cast bronze gloves, an perpetually emptied bottle of whiskey, and boxing gloves on a curved arc, all are objects that concern themselves with tongue-in-cheek reference to 60’s conceptualism and its historic lineage to the Dada readymade. For Pandian this archeological methodology comes as no surprise. In his 2011 exhibition at the Whitney Museum “Unearth,” Pandian turned to the Native American city of Cahokia and featured monolithic columns filled with earth and embedded strips of film. In “The Incomparables Club” he nostalgically exhumes the cool of the 60’s, and with it, the insularity of the “cool” of the time.
Pandian considers each of these images encapsulated “medium and motion” memories that zoom through the contained space of the projection room. In it, he allows viewers to be mesmerized and captivated by synthesized humming that displaces focus with aestheticized seduction. And much like the minimalist artists of the 60’s, we are left out of the club. Indeed, the surface of the objects are polished, reflective, and presented with such autonomy that they disregard the viewer. In fact the gaze reflects from the object towards other objects in the room, seeking to find one that will allow entrance into Pandian’s club. In the back room Muddy Waters, a mop leaning against the wall has been used to clean up Drakkar Noir cologne. Paired with other objects that resemble ready-mades, Muddy Waters leaves viewers inspecting for perfection in the object’s imperfections to find the punch line. The objects in the gallery are left as reminders of what was seen in the film, they comparable to objects seen in galleries to remind us of what has been seen in history. Unfortunately with Pandian, this might not be the cool club we wanted to remember.
“The Incomparables Club” is now on view at Rhona Hoffman Gallery through April 20th, 2013.