New York

Cheyney Thompson

One might not guess that one of Louisiana-born, New York–based artist Cheyney Thompson’s inspirations is Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. But, starting with his 2002 exhibition “1 Scenario + 1 Situation,” also at this gallery, the artist has hoped that viewers might respond to his series of small paintings of building materials as they once did to the contemplative boy building a house of cards. With his carefully realized depictions of bricks and two-by-fours floating alone or in elegant yet uncategorizable combinations, Thompson wants to spur the viewer toward a moment of crystal-clear apprehension of the world and the way it’s constructed, as well as an awareness of its fragility.

“1998,” Thompson’s recent exhibition of one hundred thirty-four paintings, indeed triggered another Chardin-like moment of understanding. This time, though, the work—also of sections of brick walls, hammered-together two-by-fours, and sheets of corrugated steel isolated and torqued as if hovering against the unpainted linen backgrounds—stemmed from a more personal source. Back in the year cited in the title, Thompson states in the press release, he helped start an artist-run gallery “in opposition to the logic of markets,” and his new paintings could also function as a translation or stand-in for the venture’s ad hoc nature. While Thompson painted previously on sheer organza, which granted an astonishing three-dimensionality to the forms, the new images were rendered in acrylic on raw linen, which made their presence subtler, if no less luxurious.

An inch or so separated each painting from its neighbor, as if a single large canvas had been sliced up and its constituent parts hung in its place. At first, connections among the panels were not apparent, but eventually the eye perceived that each tangle of finely grained two-by-fours and each partially built brick wall fitted with those around it in what amounted to a perspective exercise. A wall of bricks might support the beam floating above it, which in turn might have fitted into an arrangement of wood that resembled a roof. It was as if the viewer were close to the center of a structure frozen midexplosion. Then there was Barricade Blocking the Position for an Ideal Point of View, 2004, which did exactly what the title claims. A neat berm of sandbags sat in the center of the gallery with fake-wood barricades banked against it. Was this, then, the perverse centerpiece of the show? The small rectangle of floor it covered was, according to the artist, the ideal viewing position for the paintings as well as their collective vanishing point, preserved and isolated as if it needed to be protected from the very factors—viewers, critics, the art world—that corroborate its existence. Simultaneously claimed and stymied, that small area was also meant to represent Thompson’s “lost” 1998 gallery, a locus of aesthetic experience, of perception, and even of art itself. Thompson’s project seemed to pose a question: When our access to art is complicated (in every sense of the word), do we go elsewhere, or stay to defend it?

Meghan Dailey