18 Wooster Street
Surge and Shadow was an ambitious exhibition of new work by Kristin Baker, which opened on March 15, 2007 at Deitch Projects. In this new body of work, Baker expanded her dialogue with the history of painting beyond the New York School to encompass Nineteenth-Century Romanticism and History Painting. Baker forged 21st-century paintings from an abrupt collision of 19th- and 20th-century ideas of painting. In works like Flying Curve, she furthered her exploration of the structure of painting to approach the sculptural.
Just as abstract expressionism pursued a way to suit the literalism of a gesture with the eternal evocativeness of abstract form, Baker combined gestural fragments into an abstract, clastic composition. The New York School selected materials and application methods that suited their contemporaneous goals, and likewise did Baker. As Frank Stella painted right out of the can, admiring the beautiful synthetic palette of industrial paints of their day, Baker used the new rainbow of industrial plastics, metal, and synthetic polymers. To create a feeling of the human hand as a transcriber of the psyche, abstract expressionists poured, threw, or brushfully pushed their colors around; Baker’s updated method of brushless paintings that incorporate plastic paint, PVC support, and metal hardware allowed her to make contained gestures while capturing the immediacy of the ab-ex style.
Baker’s works are not traditional paintings, as her materials consist of plastic polymers, Mylar sheets, PVC, and metal. Even in application Baker uses industrial tools like squeegees or trowels; never brushes. The more sculptural pieces—which can only be described as three-dimensional paintings—were made from the plastic paint residue extruded from her mixing buckets; a microcosm of her large paintings condensed into a nugget of plastic. This new body of work expanded upon her vocabulary of collision and explosion, cars, chaos, and speed, to break new ground.
Picking up where the New York School left off, Baker’s methods and content encompassed Pop and Minimalism. Racecar crashes and dirty orange traffic cones mixed with the more extreme paintings of Robert Ryman as inspiration. Her commitment to a literal use of materials demonstrated her affinity with the minimal tradition. One can even see how her process and materials might evoke Warhol’s famous declaration, “I am a machine.” While she maintained a trace of the artist’s hand, she does so in a contained, mechanized way; creating painterliness in a literal, minimal form—gesture as “specific object.” While her content often comes from both art-historical sources and more pop sources like NASCAR Racing, the sharp PVC edges of her pieces enhanced their reading as literal objects; a surface on which forms of color play.
She also introduced another uniquely contemporary experience in her new pieces: digital culture’s effect on painting and seeing. The planar, quasi-opaque polygons she used suggest the 3D CAD-rendered universe of architecture, digital animation, and video games—where angular forms were filled in with even, simple textures to create volumes, landscape, or spaceship. Her explosions felt frozen in ecstatic obliteration and at only digitally-obtainable hyper-resolution. A tumbling car disseminated across time and space in an almost cubist fashion, captured by multiple camera angles to create 360-degree time-elapse footage.
Specific pieces were infused with other more explicit references to the history of painting. In this body of work, one sensed a feeling of the sweeping dramatic symphonies and tragic wreckage of Turner and the Romantic painters of the early 19th century. Her crashing colors gained impact from the heft of her materials and technique, unleashing, according to the Yale University Art Gallery’s Jennifer Gross, a “visual force field that absorbs the viewer in the passion of the moment.” One work was specifically based on Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa, with its wide parallelogram of compositional complaint, building up and to the right into a pinnacle of plangent protest. Baker’s version, The Raft of Perseus, imagined the raft uninhabited, the disintegrating structure dissolving into colored skeins of sea and sky. History painting met abstract painting and the collision was sublime: by taking away the human element, she made the subject of this hopeful/hopeless struggle painting itself.
One of the most interesting dialogues that Baker created in this new body of work was with Marcel Duchamp. She engaged Duchamp’s Large Glass, or, Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even, and the iconic Tu M’—two works that signify to most artists the end of painting, not a platform for the remarkable painterly innovation Baker displayed. By emphasizing the hardware endoskeleton of Flying Curve and by creating a transparent “canvas” in Warn and Torn on the Off-Coming, she highlighted the planar reality of each form and its respective, distinct materiality. As Duchamp in Large Glass created a complexly ambiguous grouping of mostly abstract forms to suggest the mechanically amalgamated negation of bodily incarnation, so Baker conjured an ethereal futuristic monster of cold form in motion. Her own mechanical technique oddly resembled that of Large Glass, and the combustion suggested by both waspalpable.
Kristin Baker graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and received a M.F.A. from Yale in 2002. Her work was presented in a solo exhibition at the MNAM Centre Pompidou in 2004. Deitch Projects presented her first solo exhibition, Flat Out, in September of 2003. A book of Kristin Baker’s work with an essay by Jennifer Gross was published to accompany the exhibition.
March 8 - 11, 2018
We will present a special solo project by the artist JR.
Image: JR, Migrants, Walking New York City, 2015
April - May 2018
18 Wooster Street
76 Grand Street
New York, NY 10013
Monday – Friday
10 AM – 6 PM
Tuesday – Saturday
Noon – 6 PM
The gallery reopens with People in April 2018.
+1 (212) 343-7300
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