Frigid and Disko Bay at Bellwether
FRIGID: 1. Intensely cold; lacking warmth or ardor. 2. Lacking imaginative qualities. 3. Abnormally adverse to sexual intercourse—used esp. of women.
The decision to name a group show by three emerging artists who all happen to be female Frigid is a subtle, yet provocative comment on contemporary trends away from overtly political art and towards a more formalist aesthetic. Andrea Claire, Karen Dow, and Kirsten Hassenfeld, working in sculpture, painting, and installation respectively, are all engaged in abstract projects, investigation of space and color and architecture. Frigid brings together one work by each artist with a chilly theme. However, none of the works lack imagination or ardor. Instead, they maintain a cool distance as the artists play with materials, space, and ideas in simple, yet sophisticated ways.
Kirsten Hassenfeld’s installation in the gallery’s storefront offers both warmth and fantasy. Using paper, straws, pipe cleaners, and light, In Pawn is a delicate, extended chain of geometric volumes. Like the science fair merged with art class, Hassenfeld transforms the façade of the gallery into a glowing cave of icicles and gem stones, clearly fake, yet even more seductive in their delicate papery skin.
Hassenfeld’s use of basic everyday objects links her installation to the elaborate worlds of Sarah Sze, master of architecture made of tampons and Legos. But Hassenfeld materials are transformed in her installations, creating a fantasy of riches out of glowing surfaces, hardly lacking in imagination.
Once through the illuminated web of Hassenfeld’s gems, Andrea Claire’s sculptures occupy the center of the gallery floor. Deltoid I and Deltoid II are brushed cast aluminum pyramids; one protrudes from the center of the gallery’s floor, while the other emerges from the left wall about five and a half feet off the floor, perpendicular to the form on the floor. “An homage to the floor and the wall respectively,” Claire’s sculptures form a kind of maze in the gallery, since they mark off a space within the “cube,” while still allowing the viewer to walk through, around, and over and below. Created while Claire was a resident at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, (founded by Donald Judd), the work certainly can be compared to Judd’s minimalism. However, while Judd said “A shape, a volume, a color, a surface is something itself,” Claire seems more interested in the relationships between these formal qualities—how their interactions in space are full of admiration, not merely cold edges.
Through the frame suggested by the corners of Deltoid I and Deltoid II, Karen Dow’s untitled painting on wood looks like the paint chips collected by a 13 year-old girl who has been allowed to paint her room. Smooth, pretty pastels of lavender, sea foam green, periwinkle, and gray are arranged in horizontal stripes of various widths along a wall-sized piece of plywood. Ellsworth Kelly famously explored the ways that solid, bright color expands the presence of a canvas in his 1960s “Spectrum” abstractions. But unlike Kelly style spectrums, Dow’s painting method uses texture, not just color. She paints along the grain of the plywood that is her canvas, which adds to the horizontal expansion of the painting along the gallery’s stark, white wall. The colors are certainly cool, but they are hardly standoffish. In its installation, Frigid maintains a sense of equitable division of space within the gallery. Each work takes up both wall space as well as volume, mostly through visual tricks. It is nice to walk into a gallery that feels so full, maintaining its cool through the emotion of the works, not their dispassionate arrangement.
The title of the show opens the works on display up to more than the merely formalist interpretation they seem to require on the surface. Frigid seems to me to be an ironic comment on how female artists who work with form are perceived—as though gender does not matter. At the same time, Frigid may also be a more serious critique of the lack of attention to emotion in abstract art. Answers to these questions remain elusive and ambiguous, but the works encourage imaginative possibilities and open up the viewer to a more passionate reading of an abstract aesthetic.
After navigating the maze of Frigid, Disko Bay provides a humorous respite from all the hard-edged abstraction. In a 360-degree view of snow-covered glaciers and ice floes, Adam Cvijanovic’s wallpaper has the flatness of a giant paint-by-numbers activity. The ice and snow come in pretty pastel blues and lavenders like the colors Bob Ross encouraged to highlight the “cold in winter” scenes—painted from the comfort of your living room, bathed in the blue glow of the television. A furry white chaise lounge in the center of the space suggests that the painting is to be watched, enjoyed as entertainment. It is an escape, but you are transported to nowhere, happier to imagine what it would be like than actually desiring to go.