On ViewMagenta Plains
February 22 – March 31, 2019
Through a restrained yet expressive vocabulary, the young New York artist Linnea Kniaz draws on carefully measured elements to create quiet variations and subtleties in her abstract paintings and sculptures. Small gestures—a lone painterly mark or tidy rows of metal rods—are intertwined in a series of internal patterns derived from empirical methods of testing and observing—a process that the artist indexes in the works themselves. Her exhibition, Running Bond, in the downstairs space of Magenta Plains, takes its title from the common bricklaying motif in which units are arranged within a sturdy, overlapping structure. This basic masonry term feels surprisingly apt for the works in Kniaz's show: nine deceptively casual paintings, a looped wire sculpture, and three utilitarian floor installations. Working both systematically and intuitively, the artist emphasizes the eccentricities that naturally emerge from her tactile, labor-oriented practice.
Although not readily apparent in the work itself, Kniaz credits the Modernist architect and designer Alvar Aalto, known for his rationalist and romantic aesthetic, as a point of departure for her latest works. In some ways, Aalto is a model for Kniaz. His pragmatic yet humanized architecture resonates with her muted and sensuous forms. However, her sculptures are more closely connected to the bland colors and iconography of popular home design, an industry that has become infused with cheap imitations of Modernism. In Surface Sequence 12 (2019), one of her floor assemblages, an orderly set of cut and partially painted gutter downspouts—standard domestic construction materials—house a collection of steel rods, linear forms that are echoed in the downspout's ridged aluminum exterior. Swaths of beige, gray, and rose tinged whites appear on its surfaces, unceremoniously painted alongside bare sections of the manufacturer's ostensibly neutral palette, highlighting a surprisingly rich tonal range. In her other sculptures, Kniaz integrates small stacks of commercially-available bricks, painted in lavender. With their playful embellishments, these floor assemblages riff on Carl Andre's deadpan, symmetrical brick installations of the 1960s. The titles of these works, Bone Linen Sequence (2019) and Light Maple Sequence (2019), which bring to mind Ryman's use of proprietary names from his mass-produced palette of whites, are at once strikingly evocative and ultimately hollow in meaning.
Kniaz's modestly-scaled paintings articulate an expansive range of eccentric compositional choices, starting with her oddly shaped canvases. She makes these works by cutting irregular scraps of canvas which she arduously pulls over a semi-soft frame constructed after the fact, making visible the ripples, seams, and staples along the way. Alluding to bodily forms—shadowy fragments of arms, legs, or clothing—these amorphous compositions are slightly saturated with areas of pale color, a tone reminiscent of blushed skin. In Yellow, Fitting Into (2019), Kniaz introduces discrete painterly forms, a progression of lemon yellows and earthier, muted tones, in response to areas of tinted, collaged canvas. These overlaid hues—both soft and vibrant—amplify the work's elusive, eye-straining color relationships. Anne Truitt's minimal yet emotive palette and Ree Morton's sentimental, hand-crafted objects are both points of reference for her.
Another painting, Orange, Growing Out and From (2019), features a tiny constellation of yellow and orange lines, loosely mapping out the painting's inner structure. Thin painted lines also cut horizontally across the canvas in a subtle perversion of the work's lanky biomorphic structure. These marks mirror the seams of the jig-sawed canvas, suggesting a coding system or key to the work's making. Subtle tensions within these compositions—internal rhythms and repetitions—are distilled linguistically through their titles. Kniaz is perhaps most interested in the moments when her paintings further reveal their sheer tactility in structural mishaps and loose, wobbly mark-making—elements that also inflect the work with a kind of vulnerability. These formal dynamics often suggest anthropomorphic allusions. In Red, Shifting Over and Up (2019), a tall, frontal form, with pendant fields of brushy auburn and orange at either end, vaguely suggests a two-legged creature or figure advancing uneasily toward the viewer. Kniaz's paintings elicit a delicate yet awkward sense of movement—an off-beat choreography that is referenced in and across her strange, poetic abstractions.