New York

Toba Khedoori

David Zwirner | 519 West 19th Street

Toba Khedoori makes monumental yet exactingly detailed drawings, coating enormous sheets of paper with wax and often imbruing the surfaces with precisely rendered images of architectural forms such as doors, windows, railings, and fences. But the vast white space in the multipanel works, which are stapled to the wall and flecked with detritus lifted incidentally from the floor of the artist’s studio, is as much Khedoori’s subject as the structures. Her drawings’ composite wholes are quiet, immobile, vertiginous—balanced on a knife’s edge between loveliness and vacancy.

Khedoori’s new work expands her subject matter to include pictures featuring a scatter of gravel and a topographical map; the artist also experimented for the first time with completely abstract imagery. Yet the oneiric stasis, the atmosphere of unbearable proximity and infinite remove, remains the same. Despite Khedoori’s scrupulous attention to picturing solid, quasi-iconic parts of the built world—the rock could read as shattered cinder block, and mapping is a human system for representing nature—her drawings are preoccupied by a profuse absence for which the artist’s right-angled windows and delicately tinted geographical contours are elaborate yet self-abnegating guises.

In this graphic universe, a sense of equilibrium is crucial, and it is always slightly off. The roughly six-foot-square swaths of paper are cut at slightly different lengths, so that the edge of the drawing literally splits into multiple planes, and the line at which the work meets the wall complicates the disjunctive seams where the separate sheets meet within the image field. A picture like Untitled (blocks) (all works 2002) depends almost entirely on grammar-school rules of perspective, showing a pile of grayed-out boxes that could be prefab concrete or sugar cubes, unmoored in this empty region where near and far collapse. The blocks lie on the giant page, evoking weight, mass, shadow. But then they also seem to pop out or levitate, their orthogonals not quite reliable. The drawings are also overwhelmingly vertical; they tower above the viewer and, buckled at the edges and affixed only with staples, subtly threaten to fall on one’s head. At the same time, the dust and the occasional artist footprint trapped in the wax argue for a reading of the sheets as horizontal. Tipping up and jutting out, receding and flattening, the nonrepresentational portions of the work refuse to let the picture parts rest easily.

As spatial orientations fluctuate, the embedded smudges, along with the faintly skinlike warmth of the wax itself, fill the emptiness with buzzing presence. Floating amid and anchoring this teeming silence, Khedoori’s focal objects accrue a kind of black-hole intensity. In two works from the recent grouping, though, this compositional balance shifts. The topographical whorls of Untitled (mountains) and the abstract sweep of vertical bars in Untitled (rain) expand across the waxy surfaces, bleeding to the paper’s edges. Rain and mountains are, of course, continuous—more so than trains or fences. But even as these forms engulf their ground, Khedoori reasserts the compression and isolation that we recognize from images like Untitled (two windows). Rather than relax the atmosphere of pregnant stasis established by white space, the full-bleed approach implies a space beyond the edges of the paper. It is as if the figures remained surrounded by the enormous borders of a scuffed and dusty background—but that ground becomes the room, the street, the tricky inspace of the viewer’s mind.

Frances Richard