New York

Ann McCoy

Brooke Alexander Gallery

I enjoy Ann McCoy’s art particularly on the level of performance. She’s a wonderful technician, spends loads of hours drawing up a storm, and isn’t afraid to equate time spent with artistic value. She celebrates patience, dedication, perseverance, regular old obsession-with-the-processes-of-work, and hourly rather than salaried work. Elevating doing over thinking and execution over conception isn’t going to win any art medals, but you could do a lot worse.

The underwater imagery is familiar. This time it’s darkened into a night aquarium (shades of Lady From Shanghai), with subjects spaced out at random, but in close proximity. The three new, huge drawings may have symbolic meanings—lobsters and starfish are mixed with some pretty obscure mystical-looking signs, Zen-type targets, crosses, Hebrew letters, etc.—but that part I don’t get. It seems tacked on, pushed into the corners in a very conscious attempt to strengthen the edges. Very big work often has edge problems, and McCoy’s symbols are doing formal work, but they’re not doing it very well.

McCoy’s first work relied on the ocean bedrock for a “ground,” for composition which had variety. The new pieces look “through-composed.” Space is pictorially uniform and dense, but unplanned, as if McCoy worked on every crustacean and anemone separately and then stuck them together one after another. Just as this nonchalant composition may not be as offhanded as it seems, the scattered subjects are integrated by a careful, diagonal colored-pencil stroke repeated over the entire surface, knitting various life and mineral forms together into a naturalist’s view of cosmic unity.

The part-by-part structure, without reference to a static environment but a free-floating, interdependent universe, keeps the viewer distracted, amused, intimate, involved with minutiae, keeps the imagery all-over and nonhierarchical (while saving McCoy a lot of prearranging). In the positive sense, such “organic” structuring fulfills itself as teeming chaos, vivid movement, surface variety, happy haphazard relationships. I like the affection in McCoy’s work, the good feeling she exhibits toward her subjects, the busyness, quirkiness, and gossamer wit.

It’s difficult, on the other hand, to keep from sliding into talk about “higher things.” If one takes the drawings too seriously (and their size may insist that grandeur of scale indicates greatness of conception) a whole avalanche of cheap dualities comes tumbling down. McCoy already works on the boundary between the absurd and the cosmic, and her drawings could be used as illustrations in a compare-and-contrast lecture: large scale versus intimate stroke; the tension of a large blow-up of microscopic organisms; infinite depths of the sea contrasted with the flatness of unstretched canvas; scientific accuracy compared to poetical mysteriousness; meticulous execution against random structure; marine life identified with nautical materials (canvas and grommets); scuba diving related to inner travel, etc.

I have little doubt that these pat “dialectical” contrasts are intentional on McCoy’s part. But I ask: do the images inspire the “ideas” or do the “ideas” dictate the subjects? I am disturbed by the fact that these things seem forced when stated, while they merely ripple when experienced silently in the work.

Jeff Perrone