New York

Janice Krasnow

Jose Freire

The neutral “look” of first-generation text-based Conceptual art may today seem as stylized, even stylish, as a Chanel dress. In her first one-person show, Janice Krasnow presented a revival of the classic Conceptualist sign, black text on white ground, in modest paintings that brought home the fact that neutrality and morphology are contradictory terms. In place of the Conceptualist’s decidedly serious and philosophical bent, however, Krasnow opted for a tone both offbeat and poetic. Her concise descriptions of subjects that nevertheless fail to take form in the viewer’s imagination address the inadequacy of artistic mimesis—the mystery and beauty that exceed it.

In “Portraits,” 1994–96, Krasnow strikes a tenuous balance between the materiality of graphic language and the attendant ambiguities of its reading. For example, one painting, which reads “Very pale creamy/beige body,” could describe a person or a car; “dirty curly/yellow hair” could be a person or an animal. Krasnow loves extremes, too: “brittle black hair/on a blunt big/head” conjures something nearly overwhelming in its distastefulness. As an installation, the “Portraits” at first appear as straightforward as classic pieces by On Kawara or Joseph Kosuth. Only on further meditation does their real oddity and humor surface. “Plump and fleshy/roots with pink/ streaked buds” conjures a mental picture that could be a full-blown still life, but its physical incarnation as neutral, black and white text seems somehow a built-in reminder of the unpossessibility of images. Still, Krasnow’s selection of a font reminiscent of typewritten text, an automatically nostalgic register in this “paperless” era, is a subtle indicator of the concreteness of her words, and the tiny slips in the artist’s execution remind the viewer of the work’s status as crafted object.

Though the “Portraits” are done in black and white, almost all contain some color adjective, which gives an emotional charge to her texts. Krasnow also interspersed the “Portraits” series with a few works from her “Severed Flowers,” 1994–, a series of daisylike blossoms in saturated, synthetic hues. In this series, the artist produces images that are just irregular enough to betray their status as handcrafted: the stamens are almost round, but irregular in places; three of the daisies are painted in one brash shade of blue, and a fourth is in a similar tone, but slightly off. As in the “Portraits,” “Severed Flowers” seems to reference the period of the late ’60s; here the nod is to hippie flower-power posters. The allusions of the two series combine to give a vaguely countercultural feel to the installation as a whole.

Krasnow also writes artist’s books with titles like How to Get Along With Other People, 1994, Artists and Money in New York City, 1994, and the forthcoming Tiny Feelings: Tips for Shy People. The texts are just eccentric enough, poised between poetic caper and sincere advice, that they have actually been mistaken for self-help books of the aphoristic, inspirational variety. Such a delightful marketing misprision provides, like “Portraits” and “Severed Flowers,” an excellent case study of the unexpected ways art can connect to the real world.

Faye Hirsch