Critics’ Picks

Etel Adnan, Vibrations n°2, 2017, gouache on paper, 7 1/16 x 4 3/4 x 97 11/16".

Etel Adnan, Vibrations n°2, 2017, gouache on paper, 7 1/16 x 4 3/4 x 97 11/16".


Etel Adnan

Galerie Lelong & Co. | 13 rue de Téhéran
13 rue de Téhéran
January 23–March 7, 2020

Accordion-style books in an accordion-centric city: Music has rarely felt as relevant to Etel Adnan’s works as in “Leporellos,” an exhibition titled after the term for this type of folding booklet. Since the 1960s, Adnan has produced such zigzagging pages, which alternately conceal and reveal their neighboring panels like miniature shoji screens. Although they include recognizable scenes—a row of inkpots, say, or Adnan’s geological muse, Mount Tamalpais, whose peak here stands three and a half inches tall at the center of Spring, 2003, 2003—these hybrid productions fulfill Adnan’s own observation that the beholder’s “mind never rests on these scrolls as it moves back and forth on them as a scanner.”

The inability to grasp any of these leporellos in a single instant has led the prolific artist and poet to liken them to musical scores. This is certainly true of Vibrations nº2, 2017, a book cracked open and concertinaed out, its forty-five-degree vertices evoking the staccato beeps of a heart-rate monitor. A navy-blue stripe appears on the right of every page, guiding our reading forward.

Yet this assumption—of the direction in which books, or even people, get read—discloses a central concern of Adnan’s work: the struggle in and with language. Reared in French-occupied Lebanon, Adnan attended schools where children were punished for speaking Arabic, even at recess. Although the ache of linguistic exile permeates many of Adnan’s writings, it seldom appears in her more tranquil palette-knife paintings and prints. (A few of these more recent estampes hang downstairs in the gallery bookstore.) An exception is Night, 2017, in which the suppression of the Arabic tongue is represented by the titular word ليل, repeated in a yellow that is smothered by murky-rose watercolor. In pages where the pink has been imperfectly applied, one can see the true hue of the yellow, which is actually very bright. It seems to gasp for air.