The Nuclei of a Material World

Stefana McClure's Colorblind Shopper-Big Red
Stefana McClure’s “Colorblind Shopper-Big Red” (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

NEWBURGH, New York — There’s a new year out, and might it not turn on new ways of looking at questions, problems, and their solutions? Or so we’d like to think, about art as much as life. A good thing then that Process and Practice, an intimate group show at Ann Street Gallery in Newburgh — just up the Hudson River and across the water from Dia:Beacon — offers a new way of looking at contemporary art practice that counts on questions, problems, and their resolutions as key to making and experiencing art.

Process and Practice, up for a month already, features the work of four female artists: Kathy Goodell, Stefana McClure, Jill Baroff and Martha Bone. The works offer a meditative, unceasing, and necessarily hopeful account of art as constant doing, made by making. Here, sculptures are not so much a thing as a thing made by doing things to other things. It’s Jasper Johns’ conceit — made contemporary in other contexts by Glenn Ligon — that you simply “do something, do something to that and then do something to that.” Drawings aren’t there in front of you, really, they’re things that have been done in particular ways and have been brought to the show context for you to see, and in the surrounded gallery context, to take in.

Virginia Walsh, director and curator of the Ann Street Gallery, has installed the show as a double of what art practice actually is. To take the work in you must walk about and around, weaving from this piece to that. The show rewards the audiences’ attention and woe to you if you really think you can get from the first piece to the last in a straight line.

Installation View, Kathy Goodell’s “Mesmer”

So, to that end, Kathy Goodell (a 2013 Guggenheim Fellow) has produced works that function more as “Look Ma! No hands!” drawings: plays on suminagashi, Japanese ink printing, on paper installed near the gallery entrance to the right and, in the back gallery, hundreds of tiny drawings splashed and sploshed on yupo paper that are then cut out and made into ceremonial artifacts for some silent art temple, Goodell’s works are miniscule strokes and takes on Rothko’s twin but separated chapels in Texas and at the Tate. Like Rothko’s masterworks, Goodell’s little jewels trigger degrees of color perception and color separation that no single drawing is likely to reveal. (And unlike Rothko’s work, Goodell’s pieces aren’t melancholy and anxious!)

Jill Baroff's "Two Timer" (Detail)
Jill Baroff’s “Two Timer” (Detail)

Stefana McClure has spent a time learning the traditional and now commercially defunct crafts behind Japanese paper making. It’s a lost art, that, and, no, seafaring international trade will not soon resurrect it. So no wonder that her works use paper, color packaging, and color to talk about the things you can’t see. Cutting holes into red and green packaged food for plants and animals — cereal, gum, popcorn and miracle gro packaging — McClure points to corporate messaging that has seemingly waved away the needs of the color blind. Another set of drawings on Japanese transfer paper literally represent every word in translation from specific Japanese films. The transfer paper drawings and the cuttings have a time-soaking, meditative effect; that you might not be able to read all that at first or fifth glance is part of the work’s loss in translation.

Jill Baroff’s works come across as drawings that are necessarily about the world.  Pigmented ink on paper, the drawings sink away from a narrative account that I might offer. Sinewy and cartographic, global, they work like charts of the world as water.

Installation view, Martha Bone’s “Cell Cycle”

Martha Bone’s finest piece is a lovely plastic net seemingly cellularly weaved and cleaved together with zip ties hung on the wall to your left so that the piece casts its own twin shadow. I wonder: if you threw the net into the Hudson River right down the road, how many local criminal and mutant bass and perch might you catch?

Edvard Munch claimed he did not “believe in the art which is not the compulsive result of Man’s urge to open his heart.” Now, sure, that’s a modernist hook and you could hang as many lazy arguments as you can on it.  And I don’t know about the heart part because that requires clairvoyance quite beyond my powers. And there’s no Man, here. (Good!) But the best work in Practice and Process tries to tease out the nuclei of a material world and, like the artists do in their own works, gets you to question what art and the world that art is embedded in is all about.

Practice and Process is on view at the Ann Street Gallery (104 Ann St, Newburgh) through January 11.

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