Critics’ Picks

View of “Pog-an-ee,” 2011.

New York

Gwenn Thomas

Art Projects International
434 Greenwich Street Ground Floor
June 28 - September 30

The eleven photographic emulsions in Gwenn Thomas’s latest exhibition, “Pog-an-ee,” have such an unassuming wit and elegant presence that one could miss that the series is at once a sharp reflection on the legacy of modernism and a virtuosic performance of some of its most famous formal ambitions and techniques. Made of construction paper, corrugated plastic, and packing tape, the collages were photographed and then printed on photosensitized linen. Each plays off motifs borrowed from early avant-gardes such as the Bauhaus and Russian Constructivism, but also from contemporary artists––for instance, it would be hard to believe that Flag, 1993, isn’t a nod to Jasper Johns. Thomas’s process simultaneously evokes the mechanical reproduction implicit in photography, the austerity and rationality of the modernist grid, and the almost ethereal glow of abstract painting. In her works she creates her own black-and-white vocabulary, a difficult enough formal accomplishment in itself.

Still, there’s no hint of ancestor worship going on here. Originally made and shown in the 1990s, the work hovers between homage and good-natured rejoinder—one that doesn’t need to stoop to parody or polemic—to the often self-serious history of the preceding century. The title of the show itself hints at playfulness: It’s a pun on the title of a Brancusi sculpture, Mademoiselle Pogany [III], 1931, as well as the hugely popular 1990s children’s game Pogs. The eight works give evidence that the grid is not just––as Rosalind Krauss would have it––the main emblem of the modernist myth, but also—like a chessboard—the space for possible moves in a game. As such, Thomas reveals that “modern art” is in fact such a game, and one that she can play deftly and with aplomb.