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Installation shot of Jessica Snow at Jen Bekman Gallery (all photos by author)

There are condos going up all over Williamsburg, facades decked out with panels of bright colors that bring to mind a sort of yuppie Piet Mondrian: sickly oranges, pea greens, and off-reds, all surfaced fiberglass, matte and smooth. All those bare walls seen through the under-construction picture windows must need something to hang on them, right? In the burgeoning gallery scene on the Lower East Side, Jen Bekman Gallery has an answer: anemically pretty, blandly abstract paintings by Jessica Snow.

Snow works largely in acrylic on paper, creating blobby shapes that intersect and overlap in cutesy patterns that often cross the line between pretty and twee. The colors the artist chooses do vibrate against each other nicely, the chromatic equivalent of an auto-tuned Ke$ha track, but that’s just it, there’s no tension in the harmony, just an easygoing, hip graphic design vibe. Beyond the colors, there’s not much else to the work aside from a vague interest in the breaking of pictorial space. Works like “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” (2010) and “Altruisum” (2009) move between suggesting three-dimensional space and denying it, but the loopy “Scattershot” (2010) and “Commas, Denoting Points, in Between” (2009) don’t accomplish the same.

At right, Snow’s “Riffing on Louis’ Point of Tranquility” (2010), to left at top, “Navigating the Ineffable” (2009), below left, “Booklet” (2009)

A chief problem with the work on display is that it doesn’t go far enough in questioning the doctrine of flat, non-objective abstraction. Amy Sillman‘s paintings flicker between the figurative and the abstract, creating unresolved spaces that turn her works into complex visual journeys. Cecily Brown turns messy passages of paint into pieces of bodies while retaining the unrestrained energy of a Pollock or De Kooning. Snow is more like a gentrified, institutional version of Color Field painting. Morris Louis is cited as a chief inspiration, and mimicked, and name dropped in works like “Louis II” (2010), but there’s none of the unshakable placidity of Louis’ paint pour canvases. Instead, we get a tourist replica of his shapes.

The rough edges of the artist’s supports, plus the presence of “Booklet,” a work on the brown cardboard back of a spiral notebook, make it a little too easy to read Snow’s work as a more refined version of a middle school student doodling pointless swirls and tendrils while bored in class. Not the best justification for a body of work. While other artists have fetishized the sheer monotony of the act of drawing or exaggerated the surreal meandering of these automatic lines, Snow simply lets them lay.

It’s fine for things to look pretty. And if that’s all you need your art to do, then that’s great, you’ll probably end up spending less money with less effort than you would picking up something challenging. Jessica Snow just seems content not to challenge her audience, just entertain them.

Jessica Snow’s exhibition closed last Saturday (December 5) at Jen Bekman Gallery (6 Spring Street, Manhattan).

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UPDATE: The artist Jessica Snow sent us the following comment about the review on Monday, January 10, 2011:

I’m always honored when a collector chooses my work for his or her home… a condo or a small apartment–I don’t judge…and if that condo were to be like Mondrian, then please don’t paint it with oranges and greens!

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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

One reply on “Need Your Condo Decorated? Jessica Snow at Jen Bekman”

  1. Isn’t that the problem with Jen Bekman gallery and her 20×200 project in general? Her slogan should be “Live with derivative graphic design” not, “Live with Art”.

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