Critics’ Picks

View of “Substance and Surface.” Clockwise from top left: Ghada Amer, Black Torment, 2005; Ghada Amer, Black Absence, 2005; Piero Golia, Untitled (12 x 30 in. Monochrome), 2007; Jim Lambie, Y-Footo, 2002.

New York

“Substance and Surface”

Bortolami Gallery
520 West 20th Street
June 26–August 31

Bortolami’s summer group show, “Substance and Surface,” claims as its point of departure a single Piero Manzoni “Achrome,” or “colorless,” painting, made ca. 1959. However, this group of monochromes from sixteen international artists—Ghada Amer, Bozidar Brazda, Thilo Heinzmann, Mike Kelley, Lovett/Codagnone, and Donald Sultan among them—revisits formal considerations that may be better understood as post-Minimal. Like post-Minimalism, which reacted to the tired authority of stiff, geometric objects, these recent works return to a more nuanced relationship between viewer and form through commonplace materials like carpet, cotton, cassette tape, tar, and embroidery—materials that also allude to equivocal cultural meanings. Glenn Ligon’s Study for Stranger #26, 2006–2007, uses material metaphorically, as black coal dust, oil stick, and acrylic paint become fraught with ideas of “normality,” alienation, and race. Other works are less subtle: Daniel Joseph Martinez’s paint-on-wood composition Abstract Painting White 3818, Every Philosophy of Life . . ., 2005, is accompanied by a discursive wall text that describes the significance of certain philosophical dogmas and refers to both politics and aesthetics. Although the show's installation seems sparse in Bortolami’s capacious gallery, the artwork ultimately relies on this bareness. For example, Jim Lambie’s Y-Footo, 2002—a thin mattress covered in silver vinyl tape—offsets the austerity of the empty floor, almost begging for a body to recline on top of it. As a monochrome, the edges of the sculpture almost disappear against the gray concrete ground. If Manzoni’s “Achrome” is the crux of this show, than such works would seem to continue a history of radical modernism . . . at least on the surface.