Preliminary Conclusions 6, Al Ravitz
NIMBUS: The Figures of Clara Mairs and Clem Haupers
curated by Annika Johnson
NATHAN RITTERPUSCH - Lustre
AMY E. SILVER - Please God, Just Get Me Out of This Hole!
On view: June 23 - August 4, 2017
I came of age in the late 60s and early 70s. It was a highly sexual moment in time, the era of “free love.” Although there were occasional orgies, typically drug-fueled and not especially gratifying, most of the sex was conducted in private, in the context of an attempt at shared intimacy. In contrast, my wife and I were at the Brooklyn Bridge Park a few weeks ago. We saw a little girl who couldn't have been more than four or five years old. Her mother suggested a photograph. The girl pursed her lips, jutted out her hip, put her hand on it, and thrust out her chest, assuming the posture you’ve seen in hundreds of selfies. This lascivious pose was a kind of public performance of sexuality in the tradition of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. The day after my initial observation, I saw another mother, another daughter, and exactly the same photographic enactment, this time in Central Park. The representation of sexuality these days is ubiquitous and purposeful. It’s a kind of stereotyped public performance of what really is a private experience; it’s a sexuality derived from pornography, even if the actors don’t realize it.
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In the essay about the show before this one, I wrote that my particular engagement with art is motivated by a desire “to have a kind of nonverbal experience that is primarily neurological,” and that what I loved about Michael Voss's paintings was that they evoked a primitive, atavistic response by visibly unearthing things that exist only in the invisible world. This summer’s exhibition is sexy, even though it’s neither pornographic nor ”transgressive.” It’s focused on bodies, and on interpersonal acts contemplated and/or consummated. It generates, for me, the desired neurological, subcortical, non-linguistic, “just a feeling”-type response. This isn’t surprising, since from an evolutionary standpoint, nothing – not even aggression – is more atavistic than sex. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P53mWKRWaao, and if you’re still interested, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvqedkn3mVY)
As I’ve lived with these pictures over the last couple months, however, I’ve also had a neocortical, cognitive, language based response to them, uniquely predicated on my personal and professional experience. I began by thinking about the difference between the older work (Mairs and Haupers) and the more contemporary (Ritterpusch and Silver), and then about the cultural construction of sexual experience and the difference between public and private sexuality (see above), and then – good psychiatrist that I am – about the public and private experience of intimacy.
The older work is self-conscious, but only accidentally. Through formal means, it addresses questions of representation – of material, light, and space. Mairs reminds me of Morandi, in the way she flattens the pictorial field; Haupers, in contrast, creates volume. But both artists focus on the body. Their choice of subject matter and representational strategies suggest something deep and emotionally true, but the representation of psychological truth was likely not the artists’ primary motivation.
The newer work, on the other hand, is more overtly psychological. The formal devices it employs are in the service of its psychological message. It is purposely, publicly, conceptually self-conscious. Ritterpusch fantasizes sexuality, you see his mind working; while Silver contemplates sexual behavior and its emotional aftermath.
Nathan Ritterpusch: Old Enough to Be My Mother #9, 2017; Head #15, 2017; Old Enough to Be My Mother #89, 2017.
Amy E. Silver: Snore Less, 2017; Boo, 2017; The Long Night, 2017.
Preliminary Conclusions 5, Al Ravitz
MICHAEL VOSS - Paintings With Names and Related Drawings
TRACY GRAYSON - Waiting Room
DANIEL WENK - Recent Tapings
SEAN SULLIVAN - WEST/END/BLUES
On view: April 28 - June 9, 2017
In my life as a clinical and forensic psychiatrist I interact with complex interpersonal systems. I’m interested in phenomena called “person-environment transactions.” During these events, the system (the person, the relationship) endeavors to maintain stability via a number of perceptual/interpretive/behavioral maneuvers. We develop certain predictive templates and then – to grossly overgeneralize – do what we can to make sure they come true. We associate with people who make us comfortable and reinforce our predispositions; we interpret our experiences in a (rigidly) consistent way and tend to ignore data that doesn’t support what we already believe; and if we don't get the response we expect from others, we engage in behavior that evokes our self-fulfilling prophecies.
When we look at things we also utilize predictive templates. We encounter a visual stimulus, associate it with other stimuli, and identify it as an example of a genus (e.g. zombie formalism) that either appeals to us or doesn’t. The perceptual experience, then, is complicated by memory, associations, and consequent expectations. My approach to being with art represents a practiced attempt to free myself of those perceptual and cognitive predispositions. The most appealing work evokes a reorganization of the templates that I use to interact with the world. I’m interested, as I’ve mentioned before, in the invisible aspects of my perceptual experience.
So now that you're entirely confused, let's talk about the work in the last show. I never know how to start these things. I look for organizing principles, but I recognize there’s something artificial about that. Nevertheless, it helps me to organize my thinking.
First, Tracy Grayson's paintings: what initially struck me about them was the way he painted the sun. It’s such a strong effect. The sun literally shines from below the surface. It was interesting (to me as a layperson) how he could use paint to create a light source. Eventually I began to see the rest of his work as an analysis of the way we perceive things. How could he divide the space while continuing to evoke representation? What perceptual assumptions do we make when we look at things?
As I’ve mentioned ad nauseum, there is something to be said for living with art rather than just looking at it. We can chip away at optical predispositions; we can allow memory and experience to influence perception; we can build new templates to manage our experience of the world from a perceptual standpoint. We can continue to modify the invisible world we inhabit.
Daniel Wenk has been doing the same thing for the last 30 years. He covers things with transparent tape. There is something very optical about the end result. It's difficult to attribute "meaning" to these objects. They are strictly experiential. He converts opacity to translucency. He generates an interaction between material and light by compulsively utilizing this ubiquitous material. Even though he does the same thing over and over, each instance evokes a different effect. It raises a kind of question: does the repetition of the same thing, in an attempt to engender a certain experience, engender yet another? Last month I referred to Peter Dreher’s glasses. They come to mind again.
Sean Sullivan also creates variations on a theme. Even though the works don’t look alike, they all seem to be about the same thing – a relatively straightforward representation of some aspect of the world to which we typically don’t pay attention. The titles often hint at what he is up to: getting us to re-look at something we see every day. The fact that his work is all on reused material adds a concretely invisible aspect to it. You know there's something on the other side, but you can't see it. You know the object has a history, but you don't know what it is.
Finally, Michael Voss's paintings. When I begin writing these preliminary conclusions, I never know exactly what I’m going to say. Writing this little essay, I've noticed that I’m motivated to have a kind of nonverbal experience that is primarily neurological – with a deep history, evolutionary as well as personal. Michael Voss's beautiful, simple paintings evoke an atavistic response. The things he paints are like physical objects he has been trying to uncover. But once he gets to where he wants to be, and the thing is exposed, it turns out to be nothing I’ve ever seen before. That's what I want. Just that experience. Seeing something I've never seen before.
Preliminary Conclusions 4, Al Ravitz
RICHARD VAN DER AA - pictures of paintings
JOSHUA HUYSER - Shivelight
SKY GLABUSH - Surfacing
NOEL MORICAL - Friendly Ghosts
On view: March 3 - April 14, 2017
I've been living with the show we just took down for a couple of months now. Sue usually makes the curatorial choices, and although I knew this one hung together, the left side of my brain couldn't quite put things into verbal perspective. Although I can respond to things affectively without the need for language, I like to put things into words – even though it’s usually quite painful:
There is nothing spiritual about any of the work. Rather it’s about non-narrative materiality, which is the kind that appeals to me the most. Non-narrative content is usually what I’m looking for; otherwise I’d rather read a book or see a movie.
I’ll begin with the Richard van der Aa paintings. They look like pictures of defined areas of emptiness, but they are actually densely material representations of a single painting (under different conditions, I imagine). So they are densely representative, like Peter Dreher glass paintings.
Joshua Huyser’s watercolors look as if he is painting the opposite of emptiness. But, he's putting things – mostly empty vessels – into an empty field, drawing out the distinction between something and nothing. So, in contrast to van der Aa, Josh is really painting emptiness, an emptiness that’s highlighted by the intrusion of a thing in an empty field.
The other two artists more sculptural. Rather than creating representations of things in emptiness, they create real things in real empty space.
Sky Glabush’s painted weavings look two-dimensional, but they have texture. This is not a representation of a material thing. It is an actual material thing that is imbued. I'm not quite ready to say what it’s imbued with. I haven't thought about it enough.
Finally, there are Noel Morical’s sculptures. When I sit with them, I’m reminded of Ruth Asawa – only psychedelic, mind expanding. Noel’s work is imbued with tactility and color, and it is suggestive. Almost like a weird experiment to investigate the way material objects with certain qualities can inhabit and transform space. And the shapes of these things allow Noel to work intensively with color in a space impossible to capture with painting.
Both Sue and I love grabbing these sculptures. Their tactility creates a certain kind of comfort. It feels really good to squeeze them. That is an amazing quality for an object to have, squeezability. That's what I mean about psychedelic. It's mind bending.
Preliminary Conclusions 3, Al Ravitz
JOHN MENDELSOHN - Dream Garden
ANNA SHTEYNSHLEYGER - 26 Court
JOHN PHELAN - Seats and Chairs
On view: January 6 - February 18, 2016
I've been a psychiatrist for almost 40 years. I do a lot of different things, but the thing I do the most is work with divorcing families, either as a court ordered custody evaluator, a parent coordinator (someone who helps divorced couples make decisions about their children), or a couples and/or individual psychotherapist. In this capacity, I spend my days listening, talking, and writing reports.
I also collect art – again for about 40 years. As far as I'm concerned, the psychiatry and the art are not really connected. In fact, when I hear people getting all psychological about art and artist, I get bored and sleepy. I want to activate some part of my nervous system that cannot be linguistically characterized. I want to feel something rather than think something. This is what I wrote about this previously: “There is a real but invisible world that each of us uniquely inhabits. Its characteristics are based mostly on chance – genetic endowment; the physical and social circumstances of daily life; history, both personal and cultural; and of course, good or bad luck. When we encounter something that allows us to make contact with that invisible world, the result is a psycho-aesthetic experience.”
Anna's Shteynshleyger’s show, “26 Court,” represents a challenge to my non-verbal bias. I very much like the formal aspects of the exhibit – a bunch of essentially monochrome photos and a few crazy monochrome sculptures. But the work also clearly relates to her experience of divorce, and this is a subject with which I have a great deal of professional familiarity. I see divorcing people almost every day. I listen to them and try to understand them. If I’m doing treatment, I try to help them.
Anna's work clearly derives from the biological, psychological, historical, legal, and socioeconomic complexity of her divorce, but I don’t want to try to figure out what these photographs and sculptures mean, or what they say about the artist. That would be just like going to work – and besides, there is more to the work than the divorce. I want let these things wash over me. She’s taken her experience, abstracted it, and then created a series of objects inhabited by that abstracted experience. It gives me a "nothing is free" feeling, but it might give you something entirely different.
John Phelan’s show, “Seats and Chairs,” just boils down existence into its very simple essence. During my late adolescence I “discovered,” through a variety of activities, that everything is connected to everything else. Phelan's room compresses this “everything is everything” concept into a tight but very familiar loop – asses serve a variety of functions. How lovely. How deep.
Finally, John Mendelssohn's paintings really do resist any verbal narrative. Whereas the other two exhibits are conceptual, Mendelsohn's is purely visual – just color, surface, and material. It's an investigation without words. It evokes a psycho-aesthetic response, especially at certain times of the day, that is exactly what I’m looking for.
Preliminary Conclusions 2, Al Ravitz
GWENN THOMAS - Standard Candles
LAEL MARSHALL - Waiting Room
MICHELE ALPERN - Project Space
On view: November 4 - December 17, 2016
When I wrote about Anne Thompson’s Color-Word Value Index, I said her project resonated with something that stubbornly resists definition, “a real but invisible world that each of us uniquely inhabits … based mostly on chance – genetic endowment; the physical and social circumstances of daily life; history, both personal and cultural; and of course, good or bad luck.” When I wrote about the next show, I thought about the intersection between memory and perception.
The Michelle Alpern drawings in our Project Space reside within a very specific environment – mounted in books on a table, lit with specific table lamps, you have to wear gloves to turn the pages. It’s hard work. The images are tiny – tiny – so small you don't want to bother to look at them because you assume there will be nothing there to engage your interest. It just looks indecipherable. You have to force yourself to sit and open (or empty) your mind, so you can inhabit the invisible world. After some effort the images expand until you can see something, but what you see turns out to be indecipherable, a language without symbols or narrative content. It’s an itch you can’t scratch, so you just have to get used to it. The process is liberating; it frees you to see things in an entirely new light.
Lael Marshall utilizes recognizable domestic materials to create abstract shapes. She suggests a language composed of familiar referents, but she dissects out the meaning. To see her objects you have to let go of your assumptions about both domesticity and abstraction. There is no specific meaning, just a suggestion that there is a wide variety of experience.
Gwenn Thomas’s Standard Candles is in the main gallery. Her photograph and wall paintings challenge our physical perception of the world. Her photographs of windows evoke a feeling of depth, when in fact they are super-flat. Her wall paintings under translucent Plexiglas look incredibly flat when in fact they enclose and therefore influence a series of empty spaces.
It's good to question the nature of the universe. Blah blah blah …
Preliminary Conclusions 1, Al Ravitz
ANDY SPENCE - Friends and Places
ALLAN McCOLLUM - Screengrabs with Reassuring Subtitles
MATTHEW FEYLD - One, Two, Three
On view: September 9 - October 21, 2016
The nice thing about running a space that shows art is that I get to live with the work. This “living with” evokes certain experiences. I form memories of those experiences. Each time I see the work, my perception is influenced by my memory. This, in case you haven't noticed, is an argument for living with art rather than just looking at it, which is an argument for collecting.
Anyway, here is a summary of my experience of living with our last show: I first saw Andy Spence's work in a catalog from 1992. He was an artist who, in some way or another, seemed to create abstract representations of things that existed in the material world – e.g. the metal siding of a trailer, or the shape of the seat of an Eames chair.
Allan McCollum is an artist whose work I’ve followed for many years. He idiosyncratically abstracts the essence of things we classify as art. The experience of his work is disconcerting – it challenges all sorts of assumptions. He said he might have an interest in doing a sort of site-specific project for the waiting room of my psychiatric office.
In our small project space we decided to do a show of paintings by Matthew Feyld, a young artist from Montreal who Sue met on Instagram years ago, and whose work we collect and exhibit.
The shows were hung. Sue and I were satisfied with the way they looked. Six weeks later I'm thinking about the work as it comes down.
First, Andy Spence: His Friend Paintings are self-portraits that are both anonymous and distinct. He repetitively paints and sands each one, until the canvas ground becomes entirely invisible. What is left is an image of a complex psychological construct, made entirely of paint, and made corporeal through the use of a collaged canvas shape. But the corporeality is generic, without specific narrative meaning. All the detail is nonverbal – surface, color, depth, shape, size.
Next, Allan McCollum: In the past he has always abstracted ideas (I think) but the current project, “Screengrabs with Reassuring Subtitles,” abstracts an affective experience. It represents, in180 iterations, both our deepest need – for everything to be okay – and our most urgent fear, that things won't be.
Finally, Matthew Feyld: His work is more experiential than conceptual. While the show was up I periodically sat in the chair in the middle of the room with the three paintings, so I could be with them. I was struck with how the light traveled through the layers of paint, evoking an altered experience every time I sat with these simple white dots. The result was that they always looked a little different than when I last viewed them, which gets back to this whole idea of living with art rather than looking at it.