76 Grand Street
While the spring 2008 exhibition “Substraction” explored street-inspired, action-painting abstraction, “Constraction,” curated by Kathy Grayson, complements our survey of new trends in abstraction by comprising the best of conceptual painting and sculpture. Many young artists today are reviving strategies in abstraction that have fallen into disuse and reinvigorating them with contemporary concerns. Reshuffling the deck of Conceptualism and Minimalism, they use new technology and fresh sensibilities to further the projects of the last century’s best abstract artists. The title is meant to suggest not only conceptual abstraction but also Russian Constructivism and the idea of the “contraption.”
Tauba Auerbach pushes conceptual text work and wordplay past its logical conclusion into the absurd. Her paintings of seemingly uniform Op-art ink-dot fields resolve, at a distance, into images of crumpled paper, while the vigorous pattern of her black-and-white tiled floor belies the fact that it is exactly half black and half white.
Joe Bradley explores how a simple arrangement of colored rectangles can be read as a figure, and how slightly changing the shape of one square can make it seem to “run.” For this exhibition, he has composed new vinyl wall works that are more than paintings, but less than objects.
Peter Coffin is a versatile conceptual sculptor who occasionally puts whimsy into the traditionally serious genre of modernist sculpture. He often works with conventional ideas that are rendered absurd by one further rotation of thought. Here Coffin has installed a rotating disk of translucent colors reminiscent of a “party disc,” which will spin slowly just under the gallery skylight—a natural light display that will continually alter the feel of the exhibition.
Xylor Jane makes intense and repetitive Op art paintings based not on Sol LeWitt–esque geometry or logic but instead on her crazy calendars, journals, and personal prime number systems. Instead of sober repetition or discrete visual order, she uses her obsessive personal observations and usually fairly simple algorithms to make very exuberant and sometimes inadvertently psychedelic handmade paintings. In the new series created for this exhibition, she charts her near-death experiences.
Mitzi Pederson puts elegance and tension into minimal materials not known for their grace: cinderblock, wood, and plastic. Instead of a Richard Serra prop piece, we have two curved and beglittered pieces of wood held in perfect counterpoise by simple string or cellophane. A cinderblock pile is treated to the sweet and subtle detailing of an haute couture gown by precisely glittering every broken edge.
Ara Peterson comes out of an efflorescence of very maximal and very figurative art in Providence, Rhode Island. At the center of this activity, Ara has nonetheless always focused on experimental video with a minimal aesthetic. His videos often couple simple concepts with repetitive and expanding abstract imagery. His sculptures and wall works are laser-cut painted wood slats whose choppy undulations come from patterns generated by his experiments in video.
—from the press release
October 21 - December 22, 2017
18 Wooster Street
The faces are melting in Kenny Scharf’s new paintings. “Things are disintegrating,” he says, “I am reacting to our increasingly out-of-control situation.” Scharf’s work continues to be infused by his inexhaustible optimism and his sense of fun but there has always been an engagement with profound issues beneath the façade. Ecology, the environment, and capitalist excess have long been central themes. More recently, his paintings have shown his alarm over the effects of petroleum and the mountains of nondegradable plastic that are produced from it.
Scharf’s work has always combined and contrasted the pop culture he absorbed growing up in Los Angeles with the important innovations in modern and contemporary art. His earlier work fused Dali and Disney. More recently, he has been in dialogue with Pollock and Abstract Expressionism. In the new work, he merges his distinct style with color field and stain painting. “I like to connect with every movement in 20th-century art,” Scharf explains. “I make new hybrids, taking it all in and putting it in a blender.”
A distinctive style is something that Scharf admires in other artists and from the beginning has tried to achieve in his own work. He believes in art as an expression of individual identity. From his first mature work as a student at the School of Visual Arts, a painting by Kenny Scharf was instantly recognizable. Still adhering to his signature style, he continuously invents new forms.
Scharf is very enthusiastic about his new “sloppy style” that characterizes the major paintings in the exhibition. Rows of faces disintegrate into colorful drips reminiscent of both New York School painting and the serial imagery of minimal art. In these new works, Scharf is striving to create clear and simple forms that resonate with meaning. He feels liberated and excited, adding that “it is so much fun.”
The expression of emotion in art is essential to Scharf. Art that is cold leaves him cold. He explains that cartoon faces can express emotion with abstract power. Like his artistic colleagues from his early years in New York, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, Scharf studied cartoons as a way to intensify figurative expression.
It is his early downtown history that brings Scharf back to New York this October. The Museum of Modern Art is opening an exhibition on the seminal performance space Club 57 in which Scharf played a central role. Watching him paint, one can see how his experience as a backup dancer for Klaus Nomi and his other performative roles have shaped his approach to his work. One side of his painting practice is detailed and meticulous to the extreme. The other side is tremendously physical and requires him to use his body like a dancer.
Visitors to Scharf’s Los Angeles studio are greeted by a hundred or more discarded plastic toys in his yard and on his roof. During the early part of his career, Scharf found his art materials in the garbage. To this day, he still stops his car when he finds plastic toys and TV sets thrown away on the street. These discarded plastic objects have inspired the two other bodies of work featured in the show: his Assemblage Vivant Tableaux Plastiques, and his TV Bax. The assemblage works, which are inspired by the Nouveau Realistes, are constructed from his stock of recycled plastic toys. The TV Bax are painted on the plastic backs of discarded television sets. Like the toys, the TV backs have a disconcerting anthropomorphic quality. Scharf wonders if their anonymous designers created these plastic covers, which are different for every model, to resemble a face.
Scharf finds these thrown-away toys and TV backs to be poignant objects, resonant with emotion. “Each of these objects carries a story,” Scharf explains. He thinks about how people might have struggled and sacrificed to buy these toys and TVs, and about the intense relationship that children and families have with them. Scharf resurrects the lives of these inanimate objects in his work. He also notes that garbage keeps changing with technology. The backs of TV sets used to have large protruding “noses.” Now they are flatter and more similar to a canvas.
Since his childhood, Scharf has been fascinated by outer space. Space travel and the portrayal of infinite space have long been central themes. In his life and in his work, he tries to eliminate boundaries and borders. As he pursues his dialogue with the great painters of the New York School, he is increasingly preoccupied with the inner space of painting. His exploration of inner space creates a dynamic tension with his passion for outer space. With his characteristic exuberance and his moral voice, Scharf reformulates his unique combination of Pollock and Pop to create a vibrant new body of work.
Photo Credit: The1point8 and Adam Reich
Read about the Club 57 exhibition at MoMA in the New York Times here.
76 Grand Street
New York, NY 10013
18 Wooster Street
New York, NY 10013
Open Tuesday through Saturday
12 - 6 PM
+1 (212) 343-7300
View this website on a larger screen for the full experience.