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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

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MAY 2020 Issue
ArtSeen

Off the Wall

William Cordova, Zipora Fried, Brenda Goodman, Arturo Herrera, Sheila Hicks, Vic Muniz, Erin Shirreff

Sheila Hicks, <em>Off the Wall</em>, 2020. Linen, acrylic, 13 inches diameter. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.
Sheila Hicks, Off the Wall, 2020. Linen, acrylic, 13 inches diameter. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.
On View
Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
New York

Color experimentation brings together the seven very different artists in this sparkling virtual group show. Sequestered in the confines of apartments and houses, where we see the same colors day after day, we crave color permutations, which is exactly what this lively mix of multi-generational colorists provides. Sheila Hicks’s sculpture Off the Wall (2020) could in fact be a metaphor not only for this show but also for this historical moment. It’s a ball of multi-colored linen string with strands randomly protruding, a domestic mess that turns our “better-not-throw-anything-away” hoarding fear into an aesthetic. And since “off the wall” can mean either free-standing or nutty we see why the show takes its title from this piece, even while Hicks’s huge (roughly 39 by 165 inches) Voltaire (2018), in linen, wool, and metal is radically different from Off the Wall. It’s all order and harmony, softly modulated color fibers that whisper domestic tranquility.

Erin Shirreff, <em>Blue tones overlay</em>, 2020. Cyanotype photogram, muslin over panel, 80 x 70 inches. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.
Erin Shirreff, Blue tones overlay, 2020. Cyanotype photogram, muslin over panel, 80 x 70 inches. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

Erin Shirreff’s cool Blue tones overlay (2020) subtly modulates Hicks’s textured fabric by suggesting sculptural elements. She works in a fairly esoteric medium: cyanotype, a venerable non-silver photographic technique developed in the mid-19th century. Our word “blueprint,” derives from cyanotype, and Blue tones overlay, appropriately, deploys architectonic elements not only to echo the engineering origins of the medium but to create a mood: a blue order where all is well.

Vik Muniz also uses photographic techniques to make his vibrant, impasto-mimicking Metachromes, (Cut-outs, after Henri Matisse) (2017) and his After Yves Klein (from Pictures of Color) (2001), an investigation into the possibilities of blue that contains at the bottom a series of color samples, as if to say “I can do this in any color.” He brings us back to art history and two notable colorists of the past, but his allusions also bring to mind Walter Benjamin’s 1935 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Benjamin’s pathetically sentimental notion that the special power of an artwork, its “aura,” is missing from a technologically generated copy has no meaning in our time. Muniz’s work, an homage to two predecessors, recontextualizes their use of color in a medium defined by replication and mediated by the computer screen. This creates multiple contexts and myriad meanings. Within the framework of this show, Muniz’s work constitutes a “metachrome” (a word Yves Klein coined to describe his monochromatic war on drawing and line): color used to comment on color.

Arturo Herrera and William Cordova also take us back to the artistic past: collage and the color clashes of Abstract Expressionism. Herrera’s Untitled (2015) refashions a found book, utterly transforming it into a complex painterly surface splotched with warring colors. Untitled (2016), a 15 by 11 inch work on canvas uses antagonistic blues and yellows to reanimate the color passions of the Pollock era. Texture is important for both works, though the quality of it is likely to be lost in digital contemplation. The same is true for Cordova’s large kaleidoscopic collages, which are both made of feather, shoe laces, paint chips, and acrylic paint, often relating to his Peruvian heritage. The term “rumi maki” in the title of one of the works refers to an Aztec style of hand-to-hand combat, an absolutely appropriate idea for the turmoil he deploys on his surfaces.

William Cordova, <em>untitled (rumi maki #04)</em>, 2018–19. Feather, shoe laces, paint chips, acrylic, oil, graphite, collage on cardboard, 50 3/8 x 84 1/4 inches. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.
William Cordova, untitled (rumi maki #04), 2018–19. Feather, shoe laces, paint chips, acrylic, oil, graphite, collage on cardboard, 50 3/8 x 84 1/4 inches. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

Diametrically opposed in terms of scale, Zipora Fried and Brenda Goodman bring us back to drawing and meticulous attention to detail. Fried’s large 80 by 54 inch The Rules All Changed, for example, manipulates a subdued palette: her horizontal bands of color are like the layers of sedimentary stone in a geological site. But the clashing, diversely colored strata of pencil pieces evince conflict, the tension that lies just below the surface. Goodman, on the other hand, works in modest dimensions: her three oil-on-paper paintings are all 6 by 8 inches. They demand we examine them closely, and in this instance, the ability to magnify images on screen is an advantage. Here’s Looking at You (2019) quotes an unforgettable line spoken by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca (1942), a toast to a love that will be sacrificed to politics. Goodman creates a geometric cityscape, but incorporates dissonant, biomorphic elements in it, as if to say, yes, geometry is fine and order is wonderful, but there may be a cancer lurking within the structure.

Seven artists, seven variations on abstraction, ranging from hard edge geometry to expressionistic disorder, all to show us that color, no matter what shape it takes, is life itself.

Contributor

Alfred Mac Adam

Alfred Mac Adam is professor of Latin American literature at Barnard College-Columbia University. He has translated works by Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Juan Carlos Onetti, José Donoso, and Jorge Volpi, among others. He recently published an essay on the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa included in The Cambridge Companion to Autobiography.

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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

All Issues