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It doesn’t take me long to be absorbed by several of the pieces in Tara Sabharwal’s show at Wilmer Jennings gallery at Kenkeleba House. The artist, who was born in New Delhi and trained in Baroda, India and London, has a facility with a painterly abstraction that leans toward the decorative but doesn’t ever fall all the way in. The works I gravitate toward began their lives as prints, made with oil-based etching inks, and then (after some rumination) Sabharwal subjected them to transparent washes of watercolor and opaque pastels. Her hybrid monoprint paintings are delicate and layered; she can make objects float in the neither-here-nor-there ether, or form effulgent cascades that might be microscopic views of plant cells, a golden beach at low tide, or the god-like torrent that impregnated Danaë — this is how “Sparkle” (2014) reads to me.
Sabharwal’s keen eye for color and nuances in hue, such as in “Steam” (2017), are demonstrated throughout the exhibition Float. And for someone who manipulates shade and tone as deftly as she does, it’s impressive that her sense of compositional structure is just as strong — which can be seen in the black and white print “Anniversary” (2016), which depicts what may be dandelion wisps wafting to the foreground to become a garden of human eyes settling onto a bone-white ground below. Loveliness lives in her hand.
However, the show contains 61 pieces, 18 monoprint/paintings, 10 watercolors, 13 drawings, and 20 prints, which is far more work than I can jam into my perception or memory. It is enough to fill the front and back galleries, and another back room on the other side of a doorway. The show feels like the curation aimed to fill the space rather than create a cogent statement of Sarbhawal’s work and practice, or a potent experience for the visitor.
Experiencing this made me think of other spaces where I’ve encountered a similar dynamic. There are a number of large galleries in the city that frequently put on overwhelming, exhausting shows (both Steven Kasher gallery and DC Moore come to mind). They, like Wilmer Jennings, are blessed with capacious spaces, but they would be better served by exercising a more cutthroat editorial oversight on the shows they mount. Float ends up making me feel that the exhibition is a kind endurance test I have to pass, rather than an opportunity to explore. One can certainly have too much of a good thing, and then it’s less good.
Tara Sabharwal: Float continues at Wilmer Jennings gallery at Kenkeleba House (219 East 2nd Street, East Village, Manhattan) through March 31.