New York

Thomas Lanigan Schmidt

Holly Solomon Gallery

Thomas Lanigan Schmidt has long made a practice of using degraded materials to invoke Catholic ritual, emphasizing its importance as a backdrop for personal experience. Much more than mere simulacra of opulent ritual objects, his installations have often evoked lived experience, reflecting, among other things, the tinselly beauty of urban life. His most recent works—the “Byzantine Neo-Platonic Rectangles,” 1986–93, which are largely abstract, though they often incorporate faux jewels in delightful arrangements made of plastic wrap wadded and “set” in foil—continue to conjure up the sensuousness of many Medieval devotional objects, as well as the splendor of Byzantine icons.

The “rectangles” are 30 resplendent, mixed-media collages on wood. Each is encrusted with layers of decoration—much of it geometric—a glittery, tessellated patchwork in a prismatic range of color, shimmering from turquoise to tangerine. The effect is often that of looking through a child’s kaleidoscope, one formed from bits of mostly cheap materials that include foil, pieces of ancient linoleum, pipe cleaners, theater gels, glow tape, gilt doilies, bits of soda cans and candy wrappers, and scraps of velvet fabric. Many of the rectangles are long and narrow, others are of more conventional proportions; in this show they were arrayed around a single room in the gallery, creating the effect of windows or doorways opening to a surrounding garden filled with riotous color and pattern.

Despite its sumptuous pleasures, entrance into this work is not as easy as it might appear; there is a moment’s hesitation between reactively thinking the rectangles excessively crafted, their colors and materials meretricious, and becoming involved with their strange beauty. This hesitation is experienced as a kind of seam between the real world and the one that they inhabit. According to Lanigan Schmidt’s somewhat mystical essay on the nature of art, “Halfway to Paradise,” a “sublime frustration,” not found in “consumer advertising” is embedded in art. This frustration, described as a “thorn,” is what makes beauty possible. The rectangles are indeed haunting. They reveal dramatic tonal relationships—with an overload of high-keyed color, this is no small accomplishment—and in many the various sections are joined by rhythmic stapling.

Their obsessive construction implies a sensibility as peculiar as that of Lucas Samaras—bringing to mind, in particular, his feverishly striated ribbon-quilts. But this obvious parallel is a superficial one. Lanigan Schmidt’s work is not so much the fruit of an intransigent solipsism, as it is an equally dazzling attempt to contain layers of emotion within lovingly and obsessively created objects. Somewhat like Joseph Cornell’s evocations of memory and loss, they displace sentimentality while privileging personal taste and experience, creating a highly idiosyncratic response to an ephemeral world. Moments of degraded beauty are salvaged as a brand of truth; we live, one thinks, with these meretricious colors and materials. Lanigan Schmidt’s work is, in a way, a critique of passivity. He has said that art should be a “journey,” a “process of involvement within an object of contemplation.” With the “Byzantine Neo-Platonic Rectangles,” the journey triumphantly continues.

K. Marriott Jones