New York

Ricci Albenda

Ricci Albenda’s bifurcated practice encompasses architectural interventions and paintings of brightly colored words set against neutral grounds. His last solo exhibition at Andrew Kreps Gallery featured six of these text paintings, which, while attractive enough, have limited appeal beyond a simple linguistic and chromatic playfulness. In this show, however, the artist revisited the other aspect of his practice and successfully expanded on it.

Panoramic Portal to Another Dimension (Deanna) (all works 2007) is a seamless distortion of the gallery’s north wall in wood, plaster, and white acrylic paint. At first glance it offers up a knotty horizontal band at the point where two undulating curves meet. But look closer, and the installation—a 540-degree panorama of the gallery’s architecture—oscillates between something one sees into (corridors whose rectangular walls have bowed) and something one simply sees (perhaps a candlestick resting on a cushion). Most of Albenda’s earlier interventions are sculptural rather than truly architectural: Small protrusions bulge from or are carved into the wall, the excisions occasionally accompanied by a “positive” form suspended from the ceiling to complement the “negative” seemingly removed from the surface. Here, by enlarging the scale and making the work flush with the gallery’s architecture, the artist induces a more immersive, quasi-psychedelic push-pull effect without forsaking his typical visual restraint.

A video titled Panning Annex was projected onto the opposite wall. A digital variation on the trompe l’oeil murals Albenda created for the Museum of Modern Art in 2001 and the Hyatt Center in Chicago in 2005, it consists of a slowly rotating virtual “annex” that, like Panoramic Portal, seamlessly fills the surface on which it is presented. From time to time, this perambulatory space pauses briefly—notably when the perspective of the projection’s lines align with the walls to either side of it. At one moment it appears to depict a rectangular room; at another the two walls recede to a single vanishing point. These junctures offer viewers a chance to reconcile their expectation of a flat, vertical surface with the shifting tableau that they encounter—fleeting respite from the queasy spatial instability that characterizes the exhibition as a whole. In this work Albenda inherits the mantle of Dan Graham’s 1970s experiments with mirrors and live video feeds, employing fairly rudimentary techniques to orchestrate a complicated interplay of real and virtual space.

Albenda’s exhibition required viewers to constantly recalibrate their relationship to objects around them, as the artworks seemed also to be in the process of refashioning themselves. The effect was of a phenomenological fun house—but one contrived without resort to the digital gimmickry that some argue characterizes, for example, “blob” architecture. In Albenda’s work, space is a fluid, dynamic construct. Still, both Panoramic Portal and Panning Annex are experienced frontally. Moving from this diorama-like presentation to a wraparound environment would seem to be Albenda’s logical next step.

Brian Sholis