New York

Fernanda Gomes

Baumgartner Gallery

In 1907, Russian Symbolist-cum-Constructivist director Vsevolod Meyerhold called for a new kind of revolutionary audience of “vigilant observers,” hoping that concentrated effort on the part of theatergoers would foster a newly focused political subject. Brazilian artist Fernanda Gomes, in her third solo show in New York, demanded a comparably active viewership. The art on display included filaments of string casting barely perceptible shadows, a tiny gold thread looping out about an inch from the wall near the floor, and pieces of clear tape applied to the wall. One does not see much of Gomes’s art without first hunting it down; once located, the elusive objects demand an attentiveness that verges on surveillance.

Gomes makes work from materials she finds in or near the venues in which she exhibits. With a scavenger’s resourcefulness, she utilizes ordinary materials (nails, thread, tape) to heighten our awareness of the subtleties of surface. A raised square of thick white spackle contrasts with its smoothly painted surroundings, and a length of tape is visible only by its gentle glint. In her hands, the whiteness of the gallery takes on a kind of fragility. Thin threads emerge from the wall and flutter slightly in response to viewers’ breath. Gomes demonstrates the lyricism that can come from economy: A little round disk of white fibers is stuck on the wall at eye level, as if a cotton pad had adhered to the paint and been removed, leaving only slight traces behind.

Along with these subtle interventions, there were more traditional works, including three all-white diptychs, a sculpture of egg-shaped forms attached to a pedestal, and a small wall work that consists of broken chalk stacked on a slab of gum adhesive. The paired primed canvases of one diptych are distinguishable from one another only by differences in surface finish; in another diptych, a needle projects from the thin gap between the unpainted panels, dangling a thread from its eye.

The gallery was bisected by an installation featuring several long strips of clear packing tape stretched between the room’s concrete pillars. The tape moves away from the threshold of imperceptibility by becoming a physical barrier. A wire also extended across the space, a single sheet of white paper hanging from it like laundry on a clothesline. The precedents here are many (Fred Sandback and Richard Tuttle, for instance) but the refrain that echoed most loudly was Meyerhold’s exhortation to artists and audiences alike: Pay attention. It is especially fitting, then, that Gomes harks back beyond Sandback and Tuttle to the concerns of radical Soviet artists. Her square pane of Plexiglas hung at an angle to the wall with nylon thread, for example, suggests a pared-down version of Vladimir Tatlin’s counterreliefs. Kazimir Malevich’s white-on-white series also seems relevant; in fact, Gomes’s show reads in part like a meditation on whiteness and its presumed neutrality.

None of these works really function discretely, but neither does it seem quite accurate to lump them all together as a single installation—they appear more as a sequence of individual vignettes designed for particular spaces. Gomes’s art pushes the viewer past attentiveness to the point of compulsion. Is that drip a work of art or just a drip? The checklist was of limited help; it was incomplete and included only the most overtly conventional (and marketable) works. There are rewards, of course, in being a scrupulous viewer, especially since the traditional works listed were less intriguing than the minute lines and loops and threads found elsewhere.

Julia Bryan-Wilson