New York

Nancy Friedemann

Cheryl Pelavin Fine Art

Like Elaine Reichek, Rosemarie Trockel, Ingrid Calame, and Polly Apfelbaum (and others as different from one another), Nancy Friedemann borrows from domestic craft, reinterpreting curtains, table runners, and other lace accents as fine-art objects, some on a monumental scale. Tracing segments of lace or crocheted textiles in ink onto a semitransparent Mylar sheet, she creates works that are more translations than re-creations. With the shift from thread to ink, a traditionally conservative activity, prescribed and sanctioned for girls and women and eventually lost to machines, morphs into a complex and individualistic practice. Six of these drawings (all 2003), along with seven monotypes from 2002, were on view in Friedemann’s first New York solo exhibition.

Larger works such as Untitled, a seven-and-a-half-by-fifteen-foot panel in blue ink, and She Muttered, a ten-by-three-and-a-half-foot vertical in black are characterized by a combination of rigor and exuberance that the artist half-jokingly calls “baroque minimalism.” From a distance, Untitled appears to be a direct magnification of a medallion-based lace pattern. But depending on one’s location, its patterns melt and then recrystallize as Friedemann’s heavier or lighter applications of ink wrest texture from the sleek Mylar.

The weighty presence of these larger works is undeniable. Their size links Friedemann to a tradition whose practitioners, from Claes Oldenburg to Lynda Benglis, recast subjects “worthy” of heroic scale. But once the viewer becomes absorbed in their allover patterning, another world emerges, one both playful and idiosyncratic, in which the artist can go against the grain while staying within bounds.

In Study #2, for instance, multitudes of hatch marks, squiggles, and cells are woven together with strokes that are simultaneously loose and structured, creating the kind of pattern taken for granted when draping a side table or falling from a curtain rod. A closer view of Untitled, however, reveals a different pictorial language, a personal hieroglyphics comprising lines, hatches, circles, dots, and webs out of which mirages seem to form: villages amid swampy landscapes; elaborately framed, ghostly faces (ancestral portraits?); underwater scenes dense with flora and bubbles. Elsewhere Friedemann’s deft strokes create passages of lyrical abstraction that call to mind musical notation or the surfaces of ponds and streams.

For the Colombian-born Friedemann, whose father is an American citizen, the lace window curtains that were a fixture in bourgeois neighborhoods in her native Bogotá came to embody for her the contradictions and contradistinctions that make up the world of an expatriate: the outsider stance toward both native and adopted cultures; the sense of a veil separating private and public personas. Friedemann’s choice of Mylar is telling—as a modern version of lace, its translucence hints at but obscures that which it covers; it filters light but maintains a semblance of privacy.

Spanish and English words as well as Friedemann’s own neologisms are woven into the patterns of her earlier drawings. Study #1 includes some remnants of text in an image that’s closer to a Japanese landscape than to lace. The work’s social content, however, embedded as it is in a formal framework, is both complex and subtle—almost fleeting. What comes through this wavering of handmade marks, united into some semblance of consistency, is a single-minded determination, even obsession, undergirding an overall dreaminess.

Julie Caniglia