Critics’ Picks

Virginia Jaramillo, Site: No. 15: (13.5099° S, 71.9817° W), 2018, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 72".

New York

Virginia Jaramillo

Hales Gallery | New York
547 W 20th St
October 18–December 8

Virginia Jaramillo’s show is billed as a return to painting on canvas, which she stopped doing in 1979 in order to investigate other modes of artmaking. But the eight acrylic-on-canvas works in “Foundations” examine the logic of reliefs, or even papier collé. In these “Sites” (all works 2018), Jaramillo superposes oblique planar forms in solid matte colors. The thinnest protrusion of impasto along every contour makes the surfaces feel built up or pieced together. This nearly sutured sense of composition differentiates the current body of work from Jaramillo’s earlier painterly efforts of the 1970s, where sinuous, understated lines course across the ground (one example is currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition “Soul of a Nation”).

In relief’s modernist reception, the medium has had it both ways: It maintains the integrity of discrete parts while subjecting them to a holistic logic of depth. But if Jaramillo’s paintings physically accumulate forms, the best of them also rebuke linear accretion. Details such as small polygons at the edge of the picture plane wreak havoc with figure-ground, while the acrylic’s extension onto the sides and bottom of the canvas recess the overall image.

A broader scale of viewing is thus needed to make sense of these works, both perceptually and thematically. Jaramillo has expanded her paintings’ references to the global: Each title features a lengthy GPS coordinate. Site: No. 15: 13.5099° S, 71.9817° W corresponds to a former Incan fortress above the Peruvian city of Cuzco; ruins across the Americas, the Middle East, and beyond undergird the other abstractions. The artist’s “sites,” then, cartographically diagram locations while also attending to the physical realities of paint. When Robert Smithson theorized the relationship between the gallery and an exterior location (between site and nonsite), he identified this travel as a “vast metaphor.” That vastness feels recursive for Jaramillo, whose “foundations” ground transit across epochs and cultural positions yet hold that eternal return to painting.