Critics’ Picks

Letters from the last list (January 24, 2007), 2008, trash. Installation view.

Letters from the last list (January 24, 2007), 2008, trash. Installation view.

New York

Danica Phelps

319 Grand Street
June 12–July 18, 2008

Danica Phelps has been charting her activities and expenditures for over ten years. But now, she says in her open letter–cum–press release, she’s done with the meticulous lists and color-coded financial system; she’s done, in effect, with accounting for the past. “Material Recovery” is the result: a transitional exhibition that bids farewell to cataloguing and even, with her creation of a stripe-painting factory that allows buyers to purchase paintings created by a team of assistants at fifteen cents a stripe (minimum order: fifty thousand stripes), releases control of production. As an exhibition, it is disappointingly loose, but as a manifestation of a significant moment in an artist’s career, it provides the exhilaration of standing at a threshold.

The critical departure is the “purging” (as Phelps puts it) of text from her work, for the interplay between words and graphic marks has been the very mechanism of her sophisticated blend of abstraction and narration. It would be difficult to see her forgo that complexity for her line drawings alone. But Phelps clearly isn’t quite ready to abandon the word, and its would-be expulsion has resulted in a cacophony of individual letters constructed from the artist’s own trash. The setup may be overdetermined (and what isn’t in Phelps’s work—from the decision to use only letters from her final list to the symbolic mixing of red and green, the colors of her accounting system, into the earth tones of her new “Stripe Paintings”?), but it is also sincere. MAYBE IF I DON’T WRITE IT DOWN, MAYBE IT WILL CHANGE reads one wall. It is as honest an explanation as one could expect.