An exhibition of LA-educated artists Brody Condon and Jen Liu at Lower East Side gallery On Stellar Rays showcases two different methods of abstraction. Beyond abstracting painting to an ever-flatter surface, artists use their work to flatten visual and symbolic content as well. In the work of Condon and Liu, the emotional and social connotations of material and subject matter are altered and re-used into sculptures that question fixed meanings. Where Condon goes for the jugular in his video work with abstractions of luscious color and light, Liu plays with symbolism in her work, appropriating images and then abstracting from their literal meanings.
In a clean curatorial installation leaning towards the minimal, Condon and Liu’s works are divided between two sides of the gallery, in visual dialogue but with enough distance that viewing each work and artist individually is easy. Condon’s half is made up of a single free-standing sculpture and a series of three videos that show the artist manipulating brightly colored glass cubes covered in slashes of paint. On the remaining walls are mounted Liu’s pieces, inkjet photo prints mounted onto folded fiberglass backings, a flat image made geometrically three dimensional. Collage-like paintings from Liu, much less successful than her photos, round out the rest of the space.
All the works in the gallery are immediately visually striking. Liu’s photo-sculptures, darkened to a matte black, stand out against the gallery’s white walls and Condon’s videos light up the space with color and movement. Condon’s video works are like the mother’s milk of contemporary art- they appeal to an innate, baby nerve in the brain that screams YES I do love primary colors and YES I do love close-ups. Three small, evenly-spaced screens display “Cube,” “Rhombus” and “Cubes” (all 2010). The videos are named for the glass shapes that the artist manipulates, hands and arms cut framed by the camera’s borders. Kind of like Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly camerawork, the iridescent objects held in the artist’s hands move in and out of focus, abstract art as seen by a baby held by parents, visually digesting the world piece by piece. It’s a sensual abstraction.
Liu’s photo are slower to reveal themselves; they only really get going when considered as conceptual objects as well as visual sculptures. After a few moments spent staring at the largely dark wall-sculptures, details start to emerge: a house, an empty, open sky, clouds. In her “Folded Black Cloud” series (numbers 1-5 are on display), Liu appropriates news photos for her work, but the physical process of folding the previously flat surface into geometric patterns of hills and valleys makes the latent emotional content of her images become distant: the clouds and empty homesteads no longer hold any sense of dread. This is an abstraction of content that occurs through an abstraction of form.
The two forms abstractions come together in Condon’s “Vat Flesh on a Pedestal of Imitation Jade,” (2010) a rough polygon sculpture in the middle of the gallery that recalls early PC role-playing games. The sculpture was inspired by William Gibson’s cyberpunk icon Neuromancer, and it brings to mind the retro-futurist vibe of the novel. Visually, it’s impressive: “jade” is intimated by a slick surface made up of digitally distorted imitations of the precious stone, the kind you would get by zooming in on a 3D rendering program- false, but true in the digital world. The appearance of jade and its attendant signified of preciousness is reduced down to a computer-generated facsimile that becomes more sensually entrapping than the real thing. Abstraction attacks both symbolic content and natural visuality, deconstructing both.
Unfortunately, On Stellar Rays’ photo policy prevents visitors from taking pictures of the work on view. Unless the gallery relaxes its rules a little, we won’t be covering them again in this blog.
Brody Condon & Jen Liu is on view at On Stellar Rays through December 19, 2010