Run by Lacey Fekishazy and Jon Lutz, Sardine is as small as its name suggests. And the Bushwick gallery takes space into special consideration: it isn’t an ostensibly typical neighborhood art gallery, one that makes the white walls look cramped, but there is instead a certain regard taken to consider the small scale. In New York City, where space is money, this wholehearted effort is a rustling of temperament, a spirit of wonders, especially given the spiraling of the art world’s “Turbine Hall effect.”
Artist Gabriel Hurier’s second solo show at Sardine, Directions, plays with both the large and the small. Preexisting shelves in the gallery, part of its idiosyncratic use of space, hold some of Hurier’s smaller pieces: four untitled wood paintings, as well as two named “Mars” (2014) and “Pink Moon” (2014). All abstract pieces are painting-sculpture hybrids, peppered in different compartments of the shelving unit and colored with acrylic and ink on wood. They blend almost seamlessly into the gallery’s body and the plants sitting near them. Two wooden blocks with sliced tops painted red sit at angles; others, like a yellow square, face the middle of the gallery, as if anchoring it. Melding a natural material like wood with vivid primary colors, these works feel like the block toys of child’s play.
Despite the attention to smallness, it’s the large in the show, Hurier’s site-specific installation “Mountain” (2014), that takes over. Against the white walls of the setting, the earth-toned artwork, a painted sculpture made of repurposed wood, creates its own world inside Sardine. The piece, shaped eponymously like a mountain, curves around two walls of the gallery. Hurier imbues the formation with a wide range of earthy colors, making “Mountain” almost like a soil-colored rainbow. Seemingly infinite layers and textures make this piece an exercise in forever, yet the differences coalesce into a single form. The waves of misshapen vertical panels seem to gesture towards a white-painted arc near the center — a white that almost matches the gallery walls, hinting to say, “Stop and look at where you are.”
And where are you? I’m one to believe that considering the insides of a gallery must come alongside considering its location. What part does the gallery play in its environs? A show isn’t the same show no matter where it happens. Place and space are part of context, an exhibition’s subjective meaning, especially with Directions, which attempts to deconstruct assumed country/city and home/away binaries.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Hurier had a previous show at Sardine, Drift (2012), that focused on travel. Directions does too, in conversation with a new place for the artist: the Hudson Valley. Hurier relocated to Newburgh, New York, and the current show reflects this, incorporating elements from maps and other travel symbols. The Hudson Valley has long been a setting for landscape art, yet in bringing the valley to Brooklyn, so to speak, Hurier raises questions: What use is a mountain in a city? What does a map say about its supposed referent? Does a map hold aesthetic purpose? In what direction do art objects take the artist and viewer?
Hurier brings nature — or at least the spirit of it — to the industrial space of Bushwick, a neighborhood characterized, according to a recent CUNY Graduate School of Journalism project on gentrification, by high asthma rates due to a matrix of pollution, poverty, and lack of health-care access. In doing so, his art becomes part of an ethical conversation about who is granted mobility in an age of environmental disaster. Unlike the simplified narratives of how gentrification works — one artisanal café at a time — Hurier’s work embraces the unrefined. But so subtly that his exactness would have you believe otherwise. His more discernibly geographic pieces, which contain map-like traces such as compass arrows, are full of gratitude. Rather than citing exact locations, they reference space more generally, a broader concept inflected with movement. Mixed-media works like “Roundabout” (2013) and “Squareabout” (2013) and other untitled pieces on the same wall contain a lightness in their use of lilac hues, sky blues, and daffodil yellows. If you look closely enough, you can see pencil dormant underneath the acrylic and ink, marks that punctuate the routes conjured here; they seem like preparatory tributes for a journey.
It reminds me of what Hurier described a few years ago after working as a draftsman at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo for late conceptual artist Sol LeWitt. “Working in many cities can be disorienting,” he said. “I use the information I gather in photos and writing as sort of comparative study of peoples, architectures, and landscape.” It’s hard not to become entangled with Hurier’s playful shapes and sharp lines as they make both place and space even more pronounced.
Gabriel Hurier: Directions continues at Sardine Gallery (286 Stanhope St, Bushwick, Brooklyn) through May 18.