Critics’ Picks

Michelle Grabner, Untitled, 2014, enamel on panel, 60 x 60 x 1 1/2".

Michelle Grabner, Untitled, 2014, enamel on panel, 60 x 60 x 1 1/2".

New York

Michelle Grabner

James Cohan | 48 Walker St
48 Walker Street
October 9–November 8, 2014

There is an expansive effort to create a steady sense of joy in the carefully constructed paper weavings and enamel paintings of Michelle Grabner. Her work feels steeped in the rhythms of ritual and dailiness, thoroughly tended to and loved, like a garden or a family. Count every strip of paper and modulated dot of paint—of which there are many thousand—and you get the impression that we are witness to a tabulation of blessings.

Grabner pulls her abstractions from the patterns of domestic life—the plaids of kitchen dishtowels or the zigzags and crocheted squares of the handmade baby blanket—then translates them into formally rigorous, allover compositions. The paper weavings are arranged like offerings on low plinths, vulnerable to dust, dirt, and human clumsiness. They are polychromatic and buoyant, reminiscent of Johannes Itten’s color studies, and carry a devotional charge not too unlike the craftwork of Shaker quilts or gift drawings, products of not-idle hands, that are meant to bring one closer to God.

The blanket paintings are autumnal, melancholic. They are sisters to the candy-hued versions that the artist made in the 1990s, when her now adult children were just babies. The yellows, oranges, and varieties of red are still there—they show up in the smaller works, but they’re paler, leaner, cooler, and in certain instances, quite occluded. The larger paintings are primarily grisaille, many covered with swarms of dun enamel spots, which give the surfaces the look of aged skin. But let’s not misunderstand—the countenance of a long and fulfilling life is always beautiful.