SANTA FE — Mokha Laget: Perceptualism, organized by the Katzen Arts Center at American University, is devoted to the last 10 years of Laget’s wide-ranging practice. The survey of over 40 works includes paintings, drawings, lithographs, bronze sculpture, and — surprisingly — elegant kites, installed overhead, which provide an airy counterpoint to the grounded, earthier works affixed to the gallery walls. Laget, who hails from North Africa and lives and works in Santa Fe, studied at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington DC, where she aligned herself with members of the Washington Color School, eventually becoming an assistant to painter Gene Davis.
Like Davis and his WCS contemporaries (Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Thomas Downing, Howard Mehring, and Paul Reed) Laget excels at creating an exhilarating unity of paint and substrate, particularly in her geometric shaped paintings, for which she is best known. The absorption of color into the surface is optically irresistible, even as the compositions themselves defy conventional spatial logic. Though they recall architecture and, in some cases, complex origami folds, the arrangements of forms do not necessarily make sense. Possible reference points, such as imagined light sources, doorways, earth, and sky, lead viewers down a rabbit hole of topsy-turvy spatial relationships. This effect is compounded by Laget’s deeply satisfying color sense, which subtly conveys the light and atmosphere of Northern New Mexico. The epic “Watershed #2 (Remains of the Day),” comprising four shaped canvases, is a chockablock rhapsody of angled planes. Blue trapezoids emphatically punctuate a rhythmic span of savvy golden yellows and saturated reds. Though loosely resembling a row of buildings, viewers can almost imagine Laget placing these forms in a gigantic vise, gradually tightening until the shapes compress into a collision of energetic forces.
Perceptualism encompasses a broad range of interconnected approaches, with varying emphasis on line, as in the series Visual Scores, and form, as in the shaped paintings. In the intimate Capriccio series, Laget employs acrylic gouache on primed linen to suggest exploded-view diagrams of parts that don’t fit together, as if the shapes are derived from a pleasantly illogical Jenga puzzle. But the shaped paintings reign supreme in this strong exhibition. Standouts — including “Windjammer,” with its gentle nod to the late compositions of the great Al Held, and “Double Pylon,” with its fluid yet monolithic sense of gravity — attest to the artist’s paradoxical coalescence of form and illusion.
Mokha Laget: Perceptualism continues at Container (1226 Flagman Way, Santa Fe, New Mexico) through May 15. The exhibition was organized by the Katzen Arts Center at American University and curated by Kristen Hileman.