The first time I saw Sarah Dineen’s paintings at her exhibition Sarah Dineen: Certain Dark Things in Brooklyn last year, they were displayed in an off-beat space: the Gallery at 1Gap, essentially the lobby and group activities areas of a high-end residential building. I spent quite a bit of time with the paintings then, fascinated by their sternly forbidding vistas. I encountered Dineen’s work again at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts open studios a few weeks ago. The foundation has a studio program that has been active since the late 1990s, which offers artists over the age of 25 who live in the New York area affordable studio space in Manhattan.
The foundation’s current exhibition, titled Host: EFA New Members Show, displays the work of eight artists who became members of the program in May this year. The work is installed in the foundation’s office space, around the reception area and in an adjacent conference room — not the optimal conditions. But the fact that the artworks hold up and make me want to spend time with them speaks to their powers.
There are mixed media pieces by Simonette Quamina that look like monochromatic collages in tones of washy grays and umbers, such as in “Mango Eater” (2017), where the materials create small vignettes that exist somewhere between still lifes and stories. Eun Young (Lydia) Lee’s “131 Pieces” (2015) is an installation of small, overlapping photographic portraits held together with push pins. The color images are stacked so that they seem to create a single, snaking picture of the model’s naked body, turning from the frontal view of her face and breasts toward her backside, and then, with another turn, the front of her legs and feet. It is a static portrait that operates like a film reel, rendering the body in staccato glimpses.
Ming-Jer Kuo’s “Suburban Housing” (2015) pigment prints are finely rendered diagrams of developments that extend, meander, and curve; they are abstracted versions of what in real life are asphalt streets leading to houses with two-car garages in cul-de-sacs. This piece made me think of the Charles and Ray Eames documentary, Powers of Ten, and how changes in scale can monumentally aestheticize everyday objects. Dineen’s work “Certain Dark Things #39-50” (2015) only provides a glimpse of what she can do with pumice and acrylic paint. The textures vary between the chalky, matte blacks of globes to the pebbly, rough surface of gray pedestals on which the spheres rest. Her obelisks look like ritual artifacts left behind by an ancient civilization. They are austere and silent guardians that I imagine look on the spaces they inhabit and imbue them with the quietude that required these paintings to be invoked.