New York

Holt Quentel

57 STUX + Haller Gallery

As proliferating “neo” movements attest, ours is an era of reaction. Post-Modernism revels in recycling, each “new” style an unabashed pastiche of the past. Yet Western culture has hardly renounced its claim on (or addiction to) originality. Snared in contradiction, the ’80s artist confronts the dilemma of creating work of heroic invention in an era of nothing new under the sun.

This was the first solo exhibition—and the first Boston show—for Holt Quentel, a young Chicago artist who deftly treads this precipitous line with work that is equally reverential and desecrating toward the past. Quentel’s references are the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, the geometry of Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly, and, most particularly, the dichotomized signage/abstraction of Jasper Johns.

Quentel’s link to Pollock lies in the intense physicality of her process. She stitches together large fragments of raw, unstretched canvas on which she paints bold geometric motifs, letters, or numbers in saturated primaries, black, and green, and then “assaults” different areas of it with an electric sander, leaving holes and tears. The entire canvas is put through the washer and dryer, crumpled, and left for days in the studio. Faded and fraying, the final unstretched canvas is hung on the gallery wall from dirty rope that is looped through a border of grommets in a seemingly haphazard manner. Spectral and elegiac, the resulting objects have an aged and very sad look. Remnants of Johns numbers, bits of Kelly-like chevrons, arbitrary shaped edges à la Stella—all conjure cliched Modernist ghosts. Cumbersome, useless artifacts from an indecipherable past that is erased and effaced, Quentel’s objects literally rent the fabric of Modernism, exposing its inadequacy, yet simultaneously paying homage to its pure intentions.

Hanging limp, ripped apart, evoking mystery yet remaining obstinately opaque, these works poignantly convey the fatal inwardness that bested Modernism at its own high-art game. Paradoxically, Quentel ignites the elusive spark of originality by intoning its last hurrah.

Nancy Stapen