On ViewMomenta Art
January 7 – January 16, 2011
It would be nice to be able to write a story’s worth of criticism—or encouragement—about a four-person group show by underexhibited artists. But first there has to be a there there. Case in point: Winter Break at Momenta Art in Brooklyn, featuring either 11 or 25 works (depending on how one counts a set) by Marina Adams, Peter Hopkins, Robert Janitz, and Brooke Moyse.
Winter Break, which purports to be “an exhibition of recent paintings by four artists who approach the painted image or object with a critical eye trained on notions of the sacred,” may aim for that, but the show is entirely too thin to draw any conclusions other than the not so favorable one that these artists need to produce more work, and that the curators’ definition of the sacred could use a bit of fleshing out.
That is not to say that the works themselves are devoid of merit. Marina Adams’s “Peace Paintings,” 15 circles-on-square-canvases arranged in three rows of five, are described by the gallery’s website as “based on Buddhist mandalas…The references in the work are unambiguous.” That’s not really true: the most obvious visual references in the paintings are to peace signs (relevant) and pie-charts (unintended artifact). In the context of fine art, formal references in these works to Warhol’s “Flowers” silkscreen variations are the most Rorschachianly obvious and, quite frankly, the most gratifying. Adams’s use of bright and DayGlo paint infuses the set with a vitality worthy of the theme of peace or the heightened supersensory state of meditation. As a set, these works cohere in kaleidoscopic permutations; as single paintings, one suspects they’d be less successful.
Peter Hopkins’s shimmering, museum-scale “Hinged Site, Untitled (Black/White)” and “Untitled (Red/Yellow),” both painted in 2003, are visually stimulating and materially and functionally unique. Both incorporate toxic, sealed medical liquids and fabric; “Black/White” uses mica alkyd for a seashell pearlescent effect, “Red/Yellow” a huge field of Day-Glo yellow. Hopkins’s “Hinged Sites” are so called because they are indeed hinged along the left edge, and open like doors—or books. The beetle carapace “Black/White” is aptly named: the dark, metallic exterior, also incorporating gold holographic foil, is contrasted upon opening with a pale, textured, iridescent interior. The display possibilities of these works are intriguing. For example, as doors, mounted at floor level, with a blind opening.
Hopkins also makes triptychs, not on view here, which have their own, arguably more allusively “sacred” symbolism; one would’ve liked to see at least one example in this show. Hopkins’s work, despite its appealing dualistic, public/private, revealed/hidden, “sacred” connotations, stands alone as formal, non-verbal visual art perhaps its real claim to sacred fame.
Robert Janitz separates two of his four paintings from the rest of the show by mounting them on a backdrop of natural corrugated cardboard wrapped from ceiling to floor, curving at the ends. In a bizarre interview with the online art event-listing website Artcards, Janitz sardonically states, “I envision painting with the canvas hung on the wall and then presenting it laid out flat on a table. When we’re talking about the place of the cardboard I think about the architectural constraints of fucking—or the evolution of the glory hole.” All four of Janitz’s paintings are classically minimal, essentially textured areas of solid colors with subtle variations, monochrome paintings à la Robert Ryman’s “Ledger” (1982) or Kazimir Malevich. Thus the thick, off-white encaustic “Untitled” (2010) and “(pawn size)” (2010), a joke-on-scale miniature covered by a sooty wash of drybrush, are intentional nothings. Aesthetically, Janitz’s paintings “hang” together, their colors in harmony in a palette of monochrome and browntones that includes the gallery and overlaid walls. One supposes that, if Janitz acknowledged the sacred theme in selecting his paintings, his G*d would be evil, doornail dead, or opaque.
Brooke Moyse is represented by four works—a set of small geometric studies. In these, definition of the sacred is stretched to incorporate such concepts as energy, balance, and harmony. “Pink Ghost Mountains” (2010, as are all of Moyse’s paintings), a pale landscape, is better titled than executed, containing as it does apparently transparent layers in a largely linear composition. “Red Drawing” is more successful, immediately eliciting similes (e.g., “like linoleum” and “like a retro fabric pattern”). This painting invites comparison to Malevich’s conic section “Morning in the Village After Snowstorm” (1912) at the Guggenheim. All in all, Moyse’s unsigned paintings most resemble what one imagines outsider abstract art would be like. Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s not clear whether that’s intentional.
Between Adams’s cheerful vision, Hopkins’s revelations, Janitz’s elegant emptiness, and Moyse’s divine geometry, it’s possible that Winter Break is, in fact, “an exhibition … trained on notions of the sacred.” Still, one couldn’t be faulted for thinking not, and wanting more.