Doug Ashford, “Next Day (New York Times, pages A1–A28)” (2015–16), (Page A15) paper size 37” by 23” archival inkjet prints (all images courtesy Mary Boone Gallery, New York, and Wilfried Lentz Gallery, Rotterdam)

The Life of Forms exhibition, now on view at Mary Boone Gallery, is a relatively standard summer show smorgasbord, but one artist who stands out to me is Doug Ashford. Ashford makes a simple, but bold argument with his piece ““Next Day (New York Times, pages A1–A28)” (2015–16) which consists of 28 inkjet prints of patterns overlaying pages of the Times’ front section within the issue published the day after the September 11th terrorist attacks. Colored polygons are lain on top of the text and images, sometimes obscuring them, sometimes reframing sections, sometimes merely shading the text and images beneath. There are grids of rectangles with warm-tone colors ranging among beige, maroon, and forest green. Other patterns consist of nested squares, lattice-like grids, and triangles of multiple hues. Visually, none of these are terribly interesting.

Doug Ashford, “Next Day (New York Times, pages A1–A28)” (2015–16), (Page A6) paper size 37” by 23” archival inkjet prints

The sly argument Ashford makes however, is that an aesthetic intervention can supersede history. By placing his own modernist-seeming images over and on top of accounts of that day after the attacks, with all the fear and intense psychic dissonance of that moment, Ashford makes that moment merely a backdrop for the artistic gesture. It seems that Ashford either is saying that the aesthetic gesture can transcend history, or he is pointing to the failure of that gesture to do so.

For me the work fails to hold my attention as much as the reports of that significant historical event, particularly because of the jingoistic and myopic policies the attacks helped engender (not to mention the reckless, unconscionable, and disastrous wars we engaged in thereafter). After that day, the country really did change. Looking at the work, I am indifferent to Ashford’s images, but think about how they may be a provocation, a test to see if we will be outraged by the artist daring to stamp his little squares all over our precious hurt.

Doug Ashford “Next Day (New York Times, pages A1–A28)” (2015–16), (Page A4) paper size 37” by 23” archival inkjet prints

Life of Forms continues at Mary Boone Gallery (541 West 24th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through July 29.

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Seph Rodney

Seph Rodney, PhD, is a senior critic for Hyperallergic and has written for the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, and other publications. He is featured on the podcast The...