Artists Carla Accardi, Nadia Ayari, dadamaino, Gino De Dominicis, Carla Edwards, Kenji Fujita, Piero Gilardi, Hwi Hahm, Ellie Krakow, linn meyers, Sreshta Rit Premnath, Carol Rama, Julianne Swartz, Jonathan VanDyke
Date October 2023 – January 2024
Curator Jonathan VanDyke
Venue 1/9unosunove, Rome, Italy
All images Courtesy by the artists and 1/9unosunove. Photo: Giorgio Benni.
Through frequent research trips in Italy, VanDyke – whose first solo show appeared at the gallery a decade ago – has studied Italian modernism’s relationship to the work of his contemporaries.
The exhibition is organized around the idea of “subtext” – that which lies under the surface, is emerging into perception, and is sensed but not said. VanDyke conceives of the exhibit as an antidote to the pressure placed on contemporary artists to define themselves through identifications that can be easily categorized and purposes that can be quickly summarized. The show is built around artists who complicate and “trouble” these expectations, who refuse to pinpoint what a work of art is “about” or to assure the marketplace that they represent a consistent “brand.”
In an era of entwined global political and environmental crises, disinformation and an overwhelming sense of noise – fueled by social media algorithms – dampens nuance. How could ambiguity, complexity, and doubt serve as imaginative alternatives to the reactionary and the attention-seeking? In a 2021 essay in the publication Shifter (a journal founded by artist Sreshta Rit Premnath, who also appears in the exhibit), VanDyke argued for works of art that preference “warmth, reserve, attentiveness, maintenance, thoughtfulness, and receptivity,” prioritizing slowness and emergence rather than products or results. He notes: “Let’s regard pauses as intrinsic to processes.” The exhibit is a meditation on these ideas.
While the works in the exhibition are diverse in media, themes and connections resonate – though these themes and connections are purposefully “submerged,” taking time to notice and untangle. Several artists make use of everyday, pre-existing objects, but alter and re-assemble them so that these objects become unfamiliar. For Carla Edwards, this is American flags; in the sculpture of Kenji Fujita, this includes scraps of single-use plastics; and for Carla Accardi, this is the support – the “stretcher” – of the painting itself. Many of the artists rely on meditative studio processes, building their work through laborious accumulation, such as in Nadia Ayari’s carefully textured impastos of oil paint, linn meyer’s optically rich, painted skeins of dots and folds, and Jonathan VanDyke’s embroidering of the lining of a business suit. Many works carry a strong sense of embodiment – although the “body” here resonates more as ghost – particularly around the sensuous capacity of touch. Ellie Krakow’s fantastical and foreboding drawings picture fragmentary bodies, while her abstract ceramic forms hover in the space of limbs and appendages, rich with creases and slits; Sreshta Rit Premnath’s sculpture suggests a slumped figure; and VanDyke’s sculpture, made from a garment once worn by his father, conjures a gleaming absence.
Premnath’s large work on paper has the quality of a fragile and flaking barrier – if painting historically served as a type of view through a window, in this work, a fence surfaces to repeal the illusion of depth. Premnath’s forms are echoed by Julianne Swartz’s suspended wire sculptures, which are almost invisible, like fragile nets or tangles hovering around voids. The “net” as a field of energy – a cosmic net or even a pulsing spirit – can also be felt in meyer’s shimmering surfaces, and then again in dadamaino’s monochromatic fields of painted dots, which here live as progenitors of meyer’s paintings. One of Swartz’s sculptures gently quivers with an electric current, offering a mystical quality that is can be sensed in the iconic and haunting painting of Gino de Dominicis, where a spectral face, recalling antiquity, is submerged in a painterly surface.
Accardi and dadamaino radically re-situate the material elements of painting. Carol Rama explores industrial materials with abandon, hovering between painting and sculpture in her rigorously formal, yet wildly experimental, works on canvas. Fujita’s wall pieces, made from scraps of wood and bits of frames, conjure solids and voids that playfully mirror one another while flipping between two and three dimensions; traces of process linger like artifact or evidence. The exhibition is punctuated by Piero Gilardi’s nature carpet, an uncanny facsimile of natural forms that asserts the significance of our shared environment as the ground for all life. Yet Gilardi’s displaced nature lives in a symbolic zone, which resonates with Ayari’s evocative “nature” imagery. Ayari disorients our sense of place – where, exactly, are her “leaves” and “branches” growing, if they can be said to be leaves and branches, anyway? – as does Edwards: the raw material for her work, the flag, is a symbol usually encountered “flying” in open air, but here, the flag has been drained and “disoriented,” tinted with the colors of dusk and hung from a wall, more blanket than symbol. In Krakow’s drawings, the space depicted is familiar, yet we can’t quite place it, like memories dispelled from conscious thought. Hwi Hahm disorients the picture plane in paintings that push imagery in and out of recognition. His colors are just on the edge of acidic, his brush marks varied from thick to thin and from the studied to the impulsive. His subjects are purposefully inconsistent, with foreground and background, volume and flatness living in constant tension: Hahm’s works punctuate the group with an exclamation of wild beauty and expressive possibility.
The exhibition title is taken from the American poet Muriel Rukeyser’s poem “Waterlily Fire,” in which she reflects upon an accidental fire at The Museum of Modern Art in 1958. It was in this fire that one of Claude Monet’s iconic waterlily paintings was burned, its surface charred and colors submerged: “The arm of flame striking through the wall of form.”