Alexandra Rutsch Brock
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The Kate Oh Gallery will open its doors to the all-women’s art show, “Matrixes” from August 9th through August 27th.
Kate Oh’s “Matrixes Small Works” features an impressive array of contemporary artists from an equally myriad stock of art practices; the names include: Nancy Baker, Alexandra Rutsch Brock ,Elan Cadiz, Amy Cheng, Nandini Chirimar, Cecile Chong, Esperanza Cortés, Beth Dary, Patricia Fabricant, Susan Hamburger, Jeanne Heifetz, Liz Jaff, Susan Luss, Christina Massey, Seren Morey, Ellie Murphy, Elizabeth Mead, Laura Mosquera, Kate Oh, Pooja Pittie, Kay Sirikul Pattachote, Elizabeth Riley, Christine Romanell, Kat Ryals, Carol Salmanson, Linda Schmidt, Sylvia Schwartz, Suzan Shutan, Shira Toren, Jeanne Tremel, Joanne Ungar, Kathleen Vance, Etty Yaniv, and SungWon Yun. To do justice to each artist in the space of this review would be both a disservice to the exhibition and to the individual artists. Hence, speaking to the curatorial ethos, with choice examples, is a more fruitful approach.
Indeed, as curator of the exhibition, Jaynie Crimmins, notes in their statement, the term “matrixes” is “related to the Latin word for ‘mother,’” which “originally meant ‘pregnant animal’ or ‘breeding female’ and was later generalized to mean ‘womb.’” This immediately calls to mind that these (women) artist not only occupy a feminized milieu of artistic production but that the works, when shown together, affect novel meaning—meaning that is bred or culled through collective presentation. The “matrix” also, in an act of linguistic slippage, here recalls also “matriarchs”, therein speaking to a will-to-power, imbuing the works that these female artists present with narrative vim.
There is, indeed, the more technical use of "matrix" in the natural sciences and mathematics which many of us are perhaps more familiar with than the etymological usage. So confused, the “matrix” speaks to an organizational-cum-curatorial array where unique elements are put into a contextual relationship. Artworks curated together inherently become a matrix, whether one of historical chronology (e.g., moving through art history), aesthetic continuity (e.g., piecing together distinct movements that invoked abstraction), or tension (e.g., placing so-called “folk art” against primitivist Synthetism). How can I matrix create new meaning, disparate from the meaning that the individual elements offer? One option is that the entire exhibition invokes a breakage, insofar as all the disparate elements are distinct from received art historical norms; this, however, does not take the matrix as a unified entity. The other option is to view how, in curating the works together—wherein the individual elements belonging to distinct traditions—the collective whole becomes aptly novel due to the configuration of the works and their amassed meaning qua unity. This latter approach emphasizes the mereological apothegm that the "whole is greater than the collective sum of its parts" and, notably, is a curatorial feat. This is distinct from the former vantage, which emphasizes the aesthetic ingenuity of the elements of a set. Indeed, the latter takes the set as the aesthetic object tout court—the individual works need not be doing anything akin to spurring novel approaches, but, whence set in a latticework, bring about a fissure.
And, indeed, it is the latter vantage that I believe is better apt for approaching this exhibition, for there are disparate elements indeed. One such example is Hamburger's pastel-decorative, almost desert-like, contribution, which features a pallid gun that is set as the near-centerpiece of a rose-blanched cake of a mantle. This is one of the more representational works, which viewers may take as imbued within the contemporary political milieu of rife gun violence discourse. Other contributions, such as Shutan and Mead's, however, reach towards post-minimal abstraction, both being works of assemblage. Another such example, in line with Shutan and Mead, is Schwartz, whose contribution is a particular favorite, reminiscent of the recent artefacts proffered by conceptual artist Richard Tuttle, whose works are imbued in ambiguity the likes of which exceeds rational determination. Shwartz' piece similarly challenge conceptualization, playing on the aesthetics of the indeterminable: a bulbous azure blue ball-like figure set across layers of gleaming metallic and canvas surfaces.
A number of aesthetic continuities also come to the fore. In Jaf, Morey, Salmanson, and Pattachote's work, we see the freeing of linealities. Although the works are undoubtedly distinct in their formal approaches, they all similarly involve the repetition of lines that resemble arching naturalist indices: swiveling snakes, buggering beetles, and interlaced leaves weave into one another. Fabricant also plays with such themes, albeit with more prismatic vim: crimson, flaxen, and light blue wisps teeter in and out of one another, like rising sunset smoke. Other works are somewhere in the middle of representational/figurative realism and abstraction, such as Cortés' contribution, which reminds viewers of Dali's sun-cast delirium; a sand-like well bakes, with an ashen-blue sky cast overhead.
Cheng, Riley, Romanell, and Baker make use of geometric mosaics, challenging two-dimensionality with hallucinatory reverie—a partial standout is Cheng's piece, which features an orbular sphere in the center of a crooning matrix, fitting given the show's title. Oh and Massey are exemplaries of steadfastly holding to motifs close to our natural world, at ends with the geometricists in the show. Oh's use of brilliant, bright colors is captivating, as her flora unspool like kaleidoscopic tidal waves. Chong and Mosquera give us humans, although the former using an “art brut,” sketchy style and the latter layering the portrait of a woman, her hair lightly tossed by the wind and placed in front of an apricot, beige, and purple set of panels. Cadiz gives us a particularly arresting scene of an anonymous person, perhaps a protester, perhaps a wary pedestrian, on their knees, hands reaching out to the heavens. Brock isolates eyes and esoterica in a nine-panel work, a matrix of its own.
Where aesthetic continuities abound and disparities spring in “Matrixes Small Works”, the collective show takes advantage of movement and stoppage, lapping these lines into a circuitous composite. Were the show to invoke completeness, the matrix would be far less interesting: a bleached white cube, no rough edges or dismal threads of which to speak. The variegated nature of the exhibition’s unique elements, small in size when treated separately but grand in scale as a unified whole, makes for the show’s strength.
Written by Philosopher and Art Critic Ekin Erkan
“Matrixes Small Works" at Kate Oh Gallery, NYC
The Beautiful Awaking from the Matrix
by B. Su Alexander, PhD
What is the meaning of the word “matrix”? In our postmodern age, where the idea of living inside a computer simulation has risen to the height of a philosophical credo, the word “matrix” conjures up, thanks to the famous movie which popularized the term, a virtual universe devoid of physical substance and the enslavement of the mind. Even before the movie made waves in the popular consciousness, philosopher and cultural critic Jean Baudrillard theorized that capitalist society constitutes a simulation, because originals are rampantly replaced by replicas and fakes, which have become ubiquitous. Take the Mona Lisa for example: very few have seen the original painting, yet everyone has seen copies and images of it, so that we are infinitely more familiar with the simulated Mona Lisa. Accordingly, postmodernism has raised the virtual and fake to the level above originality, and by promulgating endless replicas enslaved us to befuddling excesses. This has lead, in the minds of critics, to a bewildering nihilism which has ended artistic progress. Yet, anyone who claims that there is “nothing new under the sun,” I would like to invite to the art show “Matrixes Small Works,” which can be read as a welcoming proof that physical reality and originality still have the currency and power to enthrall us through aesthetic thrill.
To experience the show's wide-ranging selection of artwork is like hearing an orchestra where all the parts combine to create a soundscape out of disparate instruments. No less than thirty-four women artists are represented in an intimate space on New York's East Upper Side off Madison Avenue, whose atmosphere is astonishingly cozy for its location. The viewer is confronted with the sheer physicality of an array of compositions, which are as diverse as the many members of wind, brass, string and percussion sections. An organic whole emerges with captivating originality, imbuing the collection with a dynamic and open-ended quality.
The idea for the art show came from observations made by Elizabeth Riley and Christina Massey, two artists/curators well-versed in the New York art world, who have recognized that the city's high-octane environment is prone to division and artificiality. Like many of us, they're no strangers to the feeling that contemporary society is a gigantic simulation. Sensing that this malaise is a condition to be rebelled against, they proposed an all-women collective which seeks to bring together a group of women artists who, as diverse as their approaches may be, are characterized by overlapping career trajectories: they all have a connection to the New York art world and have reacted to its hectic and divisive side. Under the name Trill Matrix, the collective has had exhibits throughout New York City. (Tellingly, the word “Trill” in the collective's name is a neologism consisting of “true” and ”real,” which functions like a mantra against the artificiality and falseness of a virtual world.) Now, for the brand new show Matrixes Small Works, the collective's original roster has been choicely expanded.
While the powerful array of the collective's works cannot be, and should not be, exhaustively described, there is an overarching freshness across all compositions on display. Organic forms dominate the space with stark purity, creating an aura of openness and mystery. Among the various shapes inspired by nature, floral forms stand out the most, ranging from abstract (Patricia Fabricant) to photo-realist (Sung Won Yun) to subtly sculptural (Christina Massey) to mini-installations (Kathleen Vance). This dominance is fundamental: In many cultures, flowers are associated with purity and beauty, and by extension, truth. Take Kate Oh Trabulsi's lotus flowers for example: In Buddhism, lotus is a symbol of clarity and enlightenment. And here, the down-to-earth tradition of the Korean Min-hwa painting is skillfully reinterpreted via a pop-art style, evoking spiritual understanding rooted not in artificiality but the enlightenment of simplicity. This painting perfectly encapsulates the goal and thesis of the show, which is to awake the viewer from the jaded comfort of postmodern society's matrix.
About the Critic:
B. Su Alexander is an art historian and curator. He has contributed essays and/or curatorial advice for Jenny Holzer, Frieze New York, The Armory Show, and Skira Editore. He holds a doctorate in electrical engineering and is a published poet.
IN THEIR STUDIOS : Interviews with Women Artists by Meg Hitchock
2/22/2022Welcome to my art blog. IN THEIR STUDIOS will feature interviews with women artists, discussing creativity, inspiration, and motivation. In a time of transition in my own studio practice, I look forward to talking to artists about how they arrived at their individual style of working, and how they keep it fresh. - Meg Hitchcock
Alexandra Rutsch Brock
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