New York

Meredith Danluck

I might have referred to Meredith Danluck’s work as “fake paintings” if that phrase weren’t somehow redolent of the mid-’80s romance of the simulacrum and the whole hands-off attitude toward painting that went along with it. The point is that her pieces are made with neither stretchers, canvas, nor paint, and their relation to the wall is ambiguous, or rather inconstant; and they follow artists like James Hyde or especially Moira Dryer in decanting the Minimalists’ reconsideration of the art-object back into a container that feels like a painting. Yet, like those artists’ works, but unlike those of their “neo-geo” contemporaries, Danluck’s are equivocal rather than absolute, tender rather than critical, ironic rather than cynical.

The Mother Ship, 1998, is typical in its materials: a blue monochrome consisting of numerous overlapping patches of light-blue satin affixed (on the sides as well as the front) to a tapering foam support that is thicker at the top than the bottom. Although the satin patches all seem to be more or less square and of the same size, the regularity of the basic unit is camouflaged by the irregularity of the overlappings, which produces the feeling of a highly differentiated set of intervals across the surface. Furthermore, the shiny segments have been put in place with their weave either horizontal or vertical, so that they take the light differently and give the illusion of two shades of blue; and a change in the viewer’s position alters the sense of which patches are more light absorptive and which more reflective. Another source of tactile (and even subtly coloristic) variation is the shifting density of overlappings visible across the surface.

Though it can be mounted conventionally, The Mother Ship was presented leaning against the wall (a faint glow behind it indicated that its back was covered with reddish rather than blue fabric, a fact that would not be apparent were it hung flush). Before it, on the floor, lay a made-to-fit case of glossy vinyl, cream on the outside and blue on the inside, that could be fastened with blue antique Bakelite buttons. (In the telling, such details can sound fussy, but the intuitive rightness of Danluck’s decisions makes them look as inevitable as Robert Ryman’s choice of wall mountings.) All of the works are furnished with such containers; some of their loveliest optical effects have to do with the play of reflections between two shiny surfaces, satin and vinyl. Other pieces were displayed on the floor, sometimes zipped or buttoned into their coordinated wraps, but these represent variable options. Yet, although a few works are specifically floor-oriented and boxy rather than flat in profile, all maintain a strong sense of being painting (the sole exception being Land Scape, 1998, the stepwise configuration of which lends it a distinctly sculptural aspect).

This relation between sheath and artwork suggests that of clothing to the body (though a body itself made of the stuff of clothing) and that of a carrying case to some specialized item. It denotes portability, even a kind of nomadism, an association underlined by the exhibition title, “Trading Cities,” taken from chapter headings in Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities (1974). Danluck wants to reinvent painting for a time—past or future?—when it was or will be lighter, more portable, and more versatile than the painting we know, though still bearing the memory of an outmoded gravity. She’s put together a pretty complete package, big enough to hold not just the idea of painting, but also a deep painterliness expressed in a most unlikely way.

Barry Schwabsky