New York

Tam Van Tran

Cohan and Leslie

Vanitas images are rarely subtle—it’s hard to ignore the implacable presence of a human skull or a solemn timepiece, or to disavow the implications of a decomposing piece of fruit—but neither are they merely symbolic. Efficient vehicles for the display of technical mastery, paintings like Chardin’s Soap Bubble, ca. 1734, or Manet’s Boy Blowing Bubbles, 1867, also use that illusionism to facilitate aphoristic moralizing. Still, soap bubbles on the verge of rupture can only mean one thing.

Tam Van Tran’s third show at Cohan and Leslie betrayed a connection, albeit an oblique one, to such historical concerns, if not to such pictorial conceits. Eschewing realism for the tattered remnants of modernist abstraction, Van Tran’s recourse to the organic (here, beet juice and cabbage as opposed to the chlorophyll and spirulina of the painted, hole-punched, and stapled paper constructions of his 2002–04

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