Critics’ Picks

James Siena, Escaped Non-Map Fragment, 2016, ink on paper and museum board, 14 x 11". From the series “Wanderers,” 2015–16.

New York

James Siena

Pace | 537 West 24th Street
537 West 24th Street
January 12 - February 11

Like the labyrinthine, filigreed patterns of an illuminated manuscript, James Siena’s new drawings, divided into three series—“Wanderers,” “Nihilisms,” and “Manifolds,” all 2015–16—transmogrify their subjects into florid, and occasionally textual, tableaux. Nihilism XI, 2016, has the phrase “JUST ANOTHER EON OF CHAOS AND CONFUSION WELCOME ABOARD,” drawn in intricate curls of script. Interwoven forms, like Celtic knots, levitate throughout the artist’s “Manifolds.” They are as finely wrought and as visually meditative as mandalas and are made from interlocking, braided-together, jewel-toned ribs. The “Wanderers” suite of works, inspired by Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset’s observations about the function of the picture frame, is full of seemingly animated figures. They slyly crawl over their beveled matboards, slipping past the traditional picture boundaries allotted to them—take, for instance, Escaped Non-Map Fragment, 2016, where a dimensionally rendered lattice, in periwinkle blue, flares out beyond its tidy realm.

Siena has always been more of a draftsman than a painter, and the rigorous repetitiveness of his practice has often yielded comparisons to Agnes Martin. But he’s closer to Sol LeWitt, Frank Stella—less spiritual and bound to a more objective, systematic process of mark-making. Siena’s numinous images turn the flatness of the picture plane into something rich, strange, heady. His lines resist all manner of limit and indelibly etch themselves onto the back of your mind.