Critics’ Picks

View of “Dona Nelson: Painting the Magic Mountain,” 2019.

View of “Dona Nelson: Painting the Magic Mountain,” 2019.

Los Angeles

Dona Nelson

Michael Benevento
3712 Beverly Boulevard
September 14–November 2, 2019

A lesson in the ardors  of making, Dona Nelson’s work thickens the experience of looking; paying attention means training oneself to revel in the little dramas erupting all over every surface as much as taking in a painting’s gestalt. Since 2003, the artist has been making double-sided paintings, often set in freestanding metal or wood frames. In their transformation from painted pictures to sculptural events (implicating the ambulatory viewer), Nelson’s canvases emphasize that presence is a prerequisite for perception. From the hundreds of decisions that inform each painting, and the works’ precise orientations in Michael Benevento’s warren of skylighted galleries, one gets the impression that everything has been carefully considered. Some efforts are elaborate, such as Crow’s Quarters (all works cited, 2019), the only painting to hold a room on its own. Others court splendor. Particularly notable in this regard is the copse of totemic, stelae-like rectangular and trapezoidal pieces, each titled either Shorty A or Shorty Q, and many of which involve colored string playfully piercing the warp and weft of the cotton canvas.

Viewers can take pleasure in reverse-engineering Nelson’s processes. Hairy Chest, for example, features two grids of different scales and orientations on either side. Using cheesecloth saturated with gel medium to define these grids, Nelson poured pools of pigmented tar gel in their interstices. In some places, she pulled the hardened cheesecloth off the canvas after the paint dried to craft gnarly plateaus and brittle ridges. Demonstrating one among many innovative techniques the artist has honed over her career, the results remind us that painting can be a method of redefining the possible. And as the artist remarked in a recent interview with The Brooklyn Rail, viewing them “asserts vision through the body.”