Critics’ Picks

Antonietta Grassi, Linkers No. 1, 2020, oil and ink on Belgian linen, 48 x 60".

Antonietta Grassi, Linkers No. 1, 2020, oil and ink on Belgian linen, 48 x 60".


Antonietta Grassi

Patrick Mikhail Gallery | Montréal
October 14–November 24, 2020

Overlaying candy-colored, geometric prisms with glimmering networks of lines that weave through and around them, painter Antonietta Grassi could easily be taken for the love child of Josef and Anni Albers. Yet while underscoring the contiguity of modernist composition and traditional craft, her exquisite abstractions also demonstrate the visual similarities between loom work and computer code. These are not idle comparisons, as this exhibition of her most recent paintings makes explicit: Nineteenth-century polymath Charles Babbage developed the prototype for the world’s first computer, the Analytical Engine, after studying the Jacquard loom. His collaborator, the pioneering female mathematician Ada Lovelace, designed an algorithm to be executed by the machine in the first instance of computer programming. Fortunately, these legacies are not merely academic references in Grassi’s work, but personal “lifelines” that become salvaged through the artist’s embodied labor.

Following in the footsteps of her own immigrant family who found employment in Montreal’s garment industry, Grassi worked as a textile designer before becoming a painter. In palimpsests of fluorescent pink, magenta, and yellow, she deconstructs both the shapes and negative spaces of obsolete technology—from ancient sewing machines and looms, to filing cabinets and folders, to the packaging materials that encase fax machines, computers, and printers. Yet if her paintings evidence the residual grasp of these outmoded forms on her imagination, they also stand on their own as works of great formal beauty. In Linkers No. 1, 2020, a phosphorescent fuchsia rectangle perforated by a stack of mysterious apertures calls to mind a series of ports on an ancient PC. While shimmering thread lines expertly maneuver their topographical shifts, a few not-quite hard edges bleed into the raw linen surrounding them in a sumptuous disturbance of the work’s diagrammatic precision. Like Agnes Martin’s grids, Grassi’s paintings both bear the traces of the hands that made them and exceed the sum of their painstakingly articulated parts. Suggesting the potentially sublime afterlife of industrial detritus, they nonetheless remind us that even in the midst of a pandemic, neither art nor life is of much interest when fully dematerialized.